The Revivalists Stir Up Some Summer Vibes at Nautica While Enduring the Growing Pains of Broad Success

The Revivalists brought their pop-infused New Orleans chops to Cleveland last night, ushering an uncertain summer season into view. The weather was cooperative, finally, and the general vibe downtown seemed to evince the slow awakening of warm-weather fun.

The Tribe kicked off a homestand with a fine win; the Nautica Queen glided serenely down the Cuyahoga River; concert-goers packed into the Harbor Inn to watch Trevor Bauer and knock back a few brewskis before the show. All in all, the city’s inclination toward summer, toward patio drinking, seemed to gel.
The show itself was a good time, and the effervescence of the night carried into the proceedings. The ¾-packed crowd seemed very into it; the general admission stands shook with pounding Top-Siders after each song, and singer David Shaw really worked the entire room, as it were.

But this was one issue, a problem that recurs now and then at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica: the GA seats were in the back, and the pit up front was scored with rows of folding chairs. The effect on the floor was cloistering, which made it difficult to accede to Shaw’s demands for dancing, moving, grooving!

This band is from New Orleans, after all, where streets are paved in funk and streetcars won’t even slow down if you’re not shaking your ass at the stop. Packed in among our new neighbors, the only real move was to sort of jerk our shoulders to and fro.

Onstage, Shaw and the rest of the eight-piece band more or less leapt across the stage, daring us to join them in the revelry of the night. At one point, I think all the musicians up there tore off their jackets—leather, denim, etc.—and flung them wayward into the breezy north shore air. Sax man Rob Ingraham twirled his brass like a baton. Drummer Paulet “PJ” Howard (one of two drummers in the group) stood up now and then to work over the cymbals on his kit and pound percussive effects into the crowd.

The band leaned heavily on the newer material from last year’s Take Good Care, which is fine enough, but it plays into the other venue-related backdrop of the night: Nautica is a bigger gig than the band’s previous stops at Beachland Ballroom, which Scene has reviewed intermittently over the last five or so years. Rather than a small club environment, the Revivalists have flipped degrees of commercial success into bills on bigger stages. And why not? There’s a certain narrative to this, a prefigured destiny that most bands must navigate at some point in their careers.

But it’s not without growing pains.

The point I’m getting at is that the stuff on Take Good Care is much more suited for the pop-concert rituals of clamoring for the audience to dance, of taking folks in the front row to task for not moving enough, of holding the mic outward and beckoning the crowd to take vocals on this next chorus. To teasingly scold the audience and juice the room with shout-outs to their city—that’s pop shenanigans. And if that’s the direction, that’s alright. But the overall atmosphere of the show, the pact between band and audience, seems to have swerved a bit off-course from the more laid-back stylings of Revivalists shows from only a few years ago.

This is the central question that we all sort of get around to asking ourselves at some point, whether we’re in a band or we’re climbing a corporate ladder in some sanitized Western industry: Where is this all going?

What’s the plot?

If the show sounds more ontological than it was, well, it wasn’t. But it’s hard not to think of these things while the band is taking a song like “Oh No” and clearly trying to figure out how to perform it on an expansive stage, with small runways jutting into the crowd and the energy having nowhere to go but… everywhere. The guitar riffs, lit on fire by Zack Feinberg (who stole the show in many ways), were free to zip off into the stratosphere of a warm late-spring night in Cleveland, rather than shoot into the crowd’s very veins with the force of a funky NOLA outfit playing in cramped quarters in a small club. Meanwhile, us in the audience, we jerked our shoulders to and fro.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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