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The Revivalists' Big Tent

music RevivalistsNOLA band combines multitude of genres for strong, singular sound

When asked about his group's name, David Shaw shrugs and deflects the question with a short story: "We needed a band name," the singer for The Revivalists says over a shaky cell phone connection from somewhere west of Wichita, Kan. The way Shaw tells it, his band came upon the moniker by chance.

Around the time the group was debating what to call themselves, one of his band mates happened to watch an episode of 60 Minutes in which Bruce Springsteen's live act was described as having an air of "revivalist fervor." The Boss, along with the phrase, seemed cool enough, they reasoned. So it stuck.

Though the name “Revivalists” may have been born out of convenience, those who listen with a critical ear to this New Orleans-based septet will hear attempts to revive a multitude of vintage genres and recombine them with the new. There are strands of rambling folk, gospel-tinged Americana, a horn section—which can contribute to soul syncopation, reggae grooves, or straight-forward rock 'n' roll—and alternative electronics all mixed up under The Revivalists’ big tent.

"We're just making albums, we're just making art," Shaw says, explaining that he and his band mates, all of whom contribute to the songwriting process, simply do what feels right. If they tried to stick to a formula they thought worked, he thinks the band's fans would get bored. "I think at some point people stop giving a shit if it's the same song 50 times."

Shaw certainly wouldn't put up with it. He admits to having a short attention span, and it's possible that the group's dynamic sound is intended to please the band as much as it is aimed at keeping the audience engaged. "If you can keep it fresh," Shaw reasons, "I think that's a good way to keep us on our toes."

It’s important for Shaw to stay busy. Two weeks ago, as The Revivalists put Middle America in the rear view mirror of their tour van—continuing on the path that will ultimately lead them through Colorado and then Santa Cruz, where they will play Moe's Alley on Sept. 13—Shaw was proud to say he had put four years between himself and his last drink.

The singer says he used to hit the bottle pretty hard. On the band's 2008 eponymous debut EP, Shaw sings about his wild days in "Soulfight," a song he recalls recording after a hard night out on the town. His hangover was no mistake, he explains.

Even though heavy drinking was the norm back then, he says he wanted to be feeling rotten when he sang the words, "Oh my God, I almost died last night/I wrecked my car and I totaled my life/So, I'm gonna find something else to do."

And he has. At least when it comes to the sauce. But when it comes to playing music, the band is working to be as authentic as possible, which often means taking notes from Shaw's bender-to-sound-booth method of singing.

For starters, the group's energy is fueled in part by a tragedy they collectively share: Hurricane Katrina. The disaster—which destroyed the city they love dearly and that brought them all together—still looms large in their thoughts. Appropriately, their tunes capture the energy of that powerful storm.

Secondly, they have learned that in order to capture the true heat and emotion they all feel when jamming hard on a song, it is best to avoid using the studio as a sterile surgical instrument, as they have on previous recordings. Instead, like Shaw did on "Soulfight," The Revivalists tried coming into the studio and hammering it all out right then and there. The band recorded their latest album, City of Sound, mostly live, without any "studio trickery," Shaw says, which allowed "the pure essence of the music to shine." 


The Revivalists play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $7/adv, $10/door. 479-1854.

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