At the beginning of the year I made a list of artists I wanted to see in concert. Topping the list were Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – I even remember saying to a friend, “…and if I got to see them together it would be my musical nirvana”.
Imagine then my thrill when it was announced two months ago that those bands would be going on a six-city tour and one of their stops would be Austin, Texas. Oh and they’d be traveling by train, in vintage rail cars playing at outdoor “venues” along their Oakland to New Orleans rail route.
Being that it’s the live music capital of the country, attaining tickets for the hottest shows in Austin can often be a challenge unto itself. The Railroad Revival Tour’s stop in Austin sold out in ten minutes. Even with 5,000 fans inside the makeshift venue along the tracks in a dusty field, there were hundreds of people outside the fence, climbing trees and dancing in the streets. Band members would occasionally offer apologies to the people on the outside that tickets had sold out so quickly. Winston of Mumford & Sons however had a different take, “Enjoying that tree you cheap bastard?”.
Tickets were going for around $150 on Craigslist—I had a friend who after missing the ten-minute window to get tickets for Austin, bought tickets for the show in New Orleans instead and decided to make a road trip out of it. That’s devotion. Seemingly even celebrities were driven to this approach; during the Old Crow Medicine Show’s warm up set, I spotted Justin Long in the crowd behind me.
Old Crow Medicine Show seemed to have been brought along as homage to the musical genres Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons are rooted in – though both bands do have banjos, mandolins and upright basses, they aren’t outright honky tonk (phew!). Old Crow was entertaining but a bit of a musical truism.
There are ten members of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and not one of them is named Edward Sharpe. The know-it-alls can take that as a joke, but to the rest of you: yes, I wondered the same thing. Lead singer Alex Ebert named the band after a messianic figure who he says, “was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind…but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.” Google doesn’t seem to have heard of such a person, so we’ll have to wonder about that one.
If you’ve ever seen them in concert or watched a video from a live performance than you know, they are a bunch of characters. Jade Castrinos and Ebert especially seem to be in a world totally separate from the rest of us. From their off the cuff conversation during the bridge section of “Home” to Castrinos’s constant state of hypnotic motion, as a band they are as enjoyable to watch as they are to listen to. The band has stated that they are working on solo albums for members Castrinos and Christian Letts before releasing a sophomore album as a band, so it was nice to hear them perform several new songs from those albums along with some favorites like “40 Days”, “Janglin” and “Carries On”.
Mumford & Sons were inconspicuous in taking to the stage, opening their set the same quiet way their album starts, playing “Sigh No More” followed by the growing fan favorite “Roll Away Your Stone”. I see a lot of shows, and listen to a lot of music but I have to say the thing about M&S is that they seem to enjoy playing their music just as much as I enjoy listening to it. That can’t help but be endearing.
Going into the concert I had expected the moments of overwhelming audience participation to be the whistling on Edward Sharpe’s “Home” or the chorus of Mumford’s “Little Lion Man”. Things got pretty rambunctious during those parts to be certain, but the audience moment that gave me chills was the total silence that befell the crowd during Mumford & Sons new song “Below My Feet”. Reverent silence is the only way I can describe it.
M&S played three new songs, all of which have more audible piano parts than their previous work, and all of which leave me with total confidence that their sophomore album will be nothing short of exceptional.
The finale of M&S’s set was “The Cave” for which they brought out “a few friends we made today…” the entire marching band from Austin High School. As if the build and climax in “The Cave” wasn’t remarkable enough. The evening could have ended there more than satisfactorily, but the actual finale was when all the members from all three bands took the stage to play (what seemed like) a fifteen-minute rendition of “This Train Is Bound for Glory”. I need to check with my grandmother, but I don’t think there are 15 minutes worth of verses.
Railroad Revival was all it had promised to be, not just another concert but an experience. From the unconventional way of travel, to the venue, right down to the train conductor who rang the arrival bell to introduce each act—it was an event to be remembered. And there was pretty wicked music to boot.