9-10 February 2008
The Reivers rode in like cowboys and girls on the dusty heels of the great punk upheaval. Played by rental-duplex kids armed with guitars and drums, the band’s jangly pop sounded alarmingly fresh when Freight Train Rain was issued as a mini-EP in 1984. And when the group turned up their amps a few years later on a Don Dixon-produced album for Capitol, the songs offered more bluster while simultaneously retaining the harmonizing push-and-pull of John Croslin and Kim Longacre.
Feb 2008: Parish Austin, TX
The Reivers—named Zeitgeist for one record until a Minneapolis band with the same name surfaced—recently announced an unexpected reunion for no discernable reason, other than the fact that everyone was available and it seemed doable. (After producing early records for Spoon, Croslin suddenly seemed to be interested in playing again.) It would be their first concert in Austin since 1991—and when the one-night reunion at the Parish nightclub quickly sold out, a second show was added.
Guitarists/Co-vocalists Croslin and Longacre joined bassist Cindy Toth and drummer Garrett Williams, the latter of whom had virtually disappeared from the music scene after the break-up. All looked ready for battle, with Croslin sporting black glasses like a Beat poet on night one, and all but Williams displaying a few more pounds.
The band’s members ambled onto the Parish stage like it was just another gig, erasing 17 years of ‘what-ifs’ with the powerful “Ragamuffin Man” from the Dixon-produced Saturday. The love-me-while-you-can song (“you feel of me with your punchdrunk hands”) is dependent upon percussion, opening with a big bass kick. Williams beat the skins with enough consistency to make him the MVP of the show. Toth bounced up and down while picking her bass strings, and the audience—particularly on Saturday night—followed suit, jumping, pogoing, and singing along word for word.
Other Austin bands of the same era (True Believers, Wild Seeds, Glass Eye, Doctors’ Mob, et al.) took paths that were just as unpredictable, but the Reivers were always the little band that could. They were known for playing the Peanuts theme, a galloping instrumental known as “Linus & Lucy” (reprised both reunion nights), as well as the occasional Gram Parsons or Rolling Stones cover (they opted to end night one with Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” instead).
They matured quickly back then, adding more and more texture to their albums over a six-year period. Yet, as evidenced by the whopping ten tracks offered from it each night (42% of the setlist), their 1985 debut, Translate Slowly, still resonates.
The high point of the reunion shows was a ringing “Araby”, which Croslin introduced on Saturday by saying they would “do a Hootie song” (one of two Reivers songs later covered by Hootie and the Blowfish). Williams’ cascade of drum rolls began the rocker. Anchored by Longacre’s guitar, Croslin spat:
It is worth the admission
‘Oh my love’ fogs up the glass…
On rainy days I wonder what’s behind the veil
And I feel your breath upon my mouth
And I press my heart into your hand,
It’s my gift from Araby.
Hearing a live “Araby” was indeed a rare gift, and it was a pleasure to watch the band members lock into each other’s grooves.
“Freight Train Rain” was performed late in the set Saturday, and as an encore on Sunday. The song remains cinematic poetry, with Croslin’s baritone offering a mysterious message about driving while “training incognito low” as Longacre’s lonesome yelping commands attention. Verses ending with “I think that I’ll just up and die” (gradually echoed in full by Longacre) sounded more resigned than adolescently dramatic in their new, stripped-down versions. Maybe “Freight Train Rain”—which contains Croslin’s admission that “it took me these 17 years” to reach a Zen state of calm—was the subconscious trigger that caused the band to regroup.
Even better than “Freight Train Rain” was 1987 college radio single “In Your Eyes”, with Longacre’s soaring lead vocals (“oh-ooh-ooh-oooh-oh-o, it’s just a little fear”) proving that the mother of five can still sing with abandon. It was impossible not to admire Longacre’s smiling grace, as her children looked on from the side of the stage.
The Reivers ventured only slightly afield from the first two albums, with “Almost Home” and “Star Telegram” being the winners from End of the Day, and “Katie” and the beautiful “Dragonflies” from Pop Beloved. A chugging “Other Side” from the latter was added the second night. More encouraging, a new ballad called “All the Drunks Say Amen” was premiered. At first, fans shook their heads trying to recall it. Later, it got them wondering “What if?” all over again.