Concert Review: Railroad Revival Tour
By Sarah Jorgensen
I personally long for a more romantic time when a train ride was the most expedient way of crossing the country; airplanes simply do not allow passengers an intimate view of the landscape they are quickly crossing. In fact, railroad tours used to be a major musical trend, with the most famous was perhaps the 1970 Festival Express tour featuring The Grateful Dead, The Band and Janis Joplin. This dreamy age was recently brought back to life in the 21st century on the Railroad Revival tour, featuring Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mumford and Sons. The three bands – almost 30 people – are currently riding an Amtrak train from Oakland, CA, to New Orleans, LA and stopping along the way to play concerts.
The band’s second stop in San Pedro, CA, just outside of Los Angeles, was packed. The concert’s setting, a parking lot next to working piers, was the perfect industrial setting for a tour that, in part, celebrates the locomotive. The crowd, largely composed of well dressed and hip 20-somethings, seemed to enjoy the food trucks more than the music. No one was dancing to any of the fabulous music, and I heard more complaints about pushing and shoving than compliments to the musicians.
While the spirit of the event seemed to be lost on most of the crowd, the three bands seemed to be having a great time. Musicians from each band guest starred during the other bands’ performances, which is always an exciting addition to any concert featuring multiple bands.
Old Crow Medicine Show kicked off the night with a rousing bluegrass set that included a cover of The Grateful Dead’s “C.C. Rider” and Old Crow’s most famous song, “Wagon Wheel.” It amazes me every time I see them play just how fast each of them can play, though this set did slow down midway. This enjoyably tense atmosphere is totally accentuated by the fact that the band members stand in an abnormally tight formation on the stage.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros took the stage next. From the opening song “Up From Below” to a mid-set “Janglin’” featuring a young girl pulled from the audience on vocals to an extended rendition of “Home,” it was clear that the band, led by eccentric singer Alexander Ebert was playing by its own rules. Alexander told a few stories, regaling the audience with a tale of realizing what death was and then attempting to crowd surf (he was held back by on-stage handlers), and even asked off-stage people how much time he had left in the set. The performance definitely embodied the bohemian and free-spirited tone of the music itself.
The long-awaited Mumford and Sons took the stage with much of the same setlist and tone as they possessed at their Coachella set a few weeks ago. In addition to “Sigh No More” mainstays like the title song itself (which served as a dramatic opener for the set) to crowd and mainstream radio favorite “Little Lion Man,” the band played three new songs, “Lover of the Light,” featuring lead vocalist and guitarist Marcus Mumford on the drums, “Hopeless Wanderer,” and “Lover’s Eyes.” All three fit nicely in and expanded on the rock-folk theme that they cultivated so carefully on “Sigh No More” – these new songs, especially “Lover of the Light” simply soar when played live. In addition to fabulous music, Mumford and Sons provided down-to-earth bantering with the audience; it’s clear that this very popular band still isn’t aware that it is.
After Mumford and Sons’ set ended, the three bands took the stage together to play a finale song in tribute to the train – “This Train.” Each of the singers had a verse to sing, and nearly every band member was introduced or featured in some way. As they lined up in a straight line and bowed together after the song, it was clear to me that the atmosphere of the train ride has positively benefited all of these artists – in the presence of one another, they all seemed honored by the creative skills of the other bands. It was summed up best by Marcus Mumford: “It’s just the most inspiring experience.” As a viewer, I could say it was, too.