The Railroad Revival Tour is a concept tour package where one of the main conceits is that all the bands have equal billing and play equal set lengths. That’s a nice thing to say, but the tickets sold lightning quick due to the recent boom of success of Mumford & Sons. While they weren’t officially the headliner, the singing along told another story. But by the end of the show, they convinced me that this was, indeed, a true group package. Seeing all three bands was a bit of a challenge, but worth it.
The show started at 6:00 on the dot, even as thousands of people waited in a mile-long line that snaked around the outside. Now I want to give Goldenvoice a lot of leeway here — it’s hard to throw a show in a venue that’s never thrown a show — but they absolutely underestimated, by a lot, how long it would take to get everyone inside. (Perhaps having more than four searchers and ticket scanners would have been a big help.) Middle Shoreline Park itself is a great place to throw a show, with beautiful views of the bay and a lush grass underfoot, so I hope that in the future, if anyone else decides to throw a show there, they’ll have more gates. The place needs them. (Not to pile on, but they need to copy Treasure Island Music Festival when it comes to operating shuttle buses, too.)
Old Crow Medicine Show, then, started with a fairly empty field. The one band on the bill I’d yet to see, I was glad to make it in (I totally cut in line) during their second song, and found them to be an absolute joy. The few people who heard the opening of their set were treated to a song about the Railroad Revival itself, but the rest of us who showed up during the set got to experience the one band who seemed to really buy into the spirit of what was happening. They talked a lot about the silver train they’d be riding, and played the sort of bluegrass music you’d expect to hear played off the side of a boxcar. (I wasn’t the only person disappointed that the stage itself wasn’t a boxcar or facsimile thereof.) They were scheduled to play until 7:00, kept realizing they had more time, and threw in extra tune after extra tune like the professional musicians they are. Loved every minute of it.
Next up was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a band I’ve never bought the Kool-Aid on. I think they have a few really excellent songs and a joyful way of performing them, but this is the night I completely turned off on them, like some sort of secret curtain was revealed. For they also had more time than they expected, and brought about 30 minutes of material to a 55-minute set. And their vamping couldn’t have been worse. It was just boring chanting songs with meaningless lyrics. And Alex (Edward) himself was having an off-night singing, even making a joke of the fact that he couldn’t hit some of the notes from his records. If this is the first night of the tour, he’ll either get better or worse; hard to tell. There’s no doubt that the crowd really came to life for “Home,” and car commercial aside, it’s a wonderful song. But by the end of their set, I felt like I had watched a magician who has one great trick, but this time I could see the sleight of hand.
Luckily I had still had Mumford & Sons, the de facto headliner to look forward to. I saw them before, over a year ago at Popscene, and at that time I predicted huge success for them. It’s nice to know I was right. So now they’re on a victory lap of sorts, carrying a platinum album (a modern rarity) and a couple of huge hits with them. They’re the darlings of every radio format known to man, and they are a totally kick-ass live band, and they know it. The large stage suited them well, for everything sounded a bit rougher and out of control, which is exciting. They have room to move, and take advantage of it as well. They played a few new songs, and these took on a much larger character. The first album sounded written for a pub; these sound like they were written for a festival. Mumford & Sons will clearly be playing a lot of festivals in their future. And if the loud singing along from their teenage fans is any indication, they’re going to have fans for a long time. This isn’t some fly-by-night pop act; this is the beginning of a huge rock act. So get on board now, while there’s still room on the train.
Oh wait, did I make a train reference? At the end of this paragraph, I promise to make a cheesier one! I’ll say that this concept tour is a great idea, and I don’t know whose idea it was, but it’s something they should think about repeating, with kinks worked out. The bands can change, but the ethos should remain the same. What I haven’t mentioned yet is the spirit of cross-pollination throughout the night. Every band appeared with every other band. Marcus Mumford watched from back stage, dancing and singing at times from the wings. A couple of guys from Old Crow Medicine Show played the entire set with the Magnetic Zeros. And this was on night one! Imagine what nights five and six will be like. If you’ve got a ticket, use it; don’t sell it. Because in the words of the final song, played by 23 excited musicians, “this train is bound for glory.”
Photos by Jonathan Pirro