POSTED ON DECEMBER 5, 2012:
Bringing the Big Easy to Tulsa
Merging New Orleans jazz and funk for something fresh By G.K. Hizer
Part of the vision for The Vanguard -- 222 N. Main St. -- when Simon Aleman opened the club was to be both a venue for up and coming bands and a place that Tulsans go to for something new and fresh, knowing that the bands would always be of high quality. Of course, forging that identity hasn't been easy, but the club is finally finding its footing as the local audience finally starts warming up to the room and the variety of styles it is bringing in to keep things interesting.
When The Revivalists came to town with JJ Grey & Mofro for a show at Cain's Ballroom back in April, I was blown away by its balance of energy and soul. After chatting with band members after the show, I found out that not only was one of the members a Tulsa native, but the group had been trying to find the right venue to break into the Tulsa market. Although The Vanguard wasn't open yet, it was one of a small fistful of venues that immediately came to mind as a good fit for the group.
After a stop thru visit opening for The Rocket Boys back in September, The Revivalists finally arrive at The Vanguard this Thursday night to headline the club and bring it healthy dose of New Orleans jazz and funk infused rock. If The Vanguard's vision is to be the club that introduces Tulsa to high quality bands in a variety of genres, this is exactly the kind of act that will help establish that identity.
The Revivalists' latest disc, City of Sound, is a mix of rock aesthetic, New Orleans jazz and funk influences, and dance beats. With the help of producer Ben Ellman (who is also saxophonist in Galactic), the band has finally found its sweet spot, providing just enough polish to its live performance to make an engaging album that wraps around your head and soul and doesn't let go for days.
Nearly eight months after my introduction to the band, I was excited to hear that the Revivalists were finally returning for a headline gig this week and used the excuse to chat with saxophonist Rob Ingraham (the group's Tulsa tie) to find out just what's up with the dynamic group that blends its New Orleans influences into a funkified stew of jam rock as smoothly as our "New Tulsa Sound" boys incorporate their classic rock roots into a modernized interpretation of the genre.
As it turns out, Ingraham said that the current disc is actually the band's third, following a five song EP (which was recorded before Ingraham became a member) and the band's 2010 full-length debut, Vital Signs.
"We actually tracked the album in December of 2010," Ingraham revealed, "but we had a lot of delays in post production and packaging. Part of that was due to working with Ben Ellman, from Galactic, because he's always touring and producing other things as well, so it took a little over a year."
Regardless of the time it took to complete the album, the results are worth it as the group's live energy, willingness to explore musically, and potential for further development are all captured in a great sonic snapshot of the band. "Chase's House", in particular, starts out with a programmed drumbeat, giving it a slight dance beat, and unfolds as it progresses, rolling out the band's horns and rhythm section, transforming into a soulful and funky jam.
"That's part of the reason we want to go with Ben," Ingraham said. "Ben is all about production and building things up around the songs. Our first full length, Vital Signs, was more stripped down. Ben's more of a producer, though, who puts his own mark or spin on your sound and that's what we were looking for. It's maybe not exactly what we do live, but it's the best representation of our band that you could put on CD. We wanted to expand from the last album and we did that. In the future, I think we'll probably dial back the production just a little bit, but we're really proud of this album and happy with it."
But how did a Tulsa boy end up in New Orleans jazz/funk/rock band?
"Personally? I went to college at Tulane," Ingraham explained. "I met Zack Feinberg, our guitarist, at Tulane. There are these two amazing universities right across the street from each other, Tulane and Loyola. If you've seen us live, sometimes we tour with six people and occasionally we tour with a seventh. Three of the guys are from Loyola, two from Tulane and one is from Ohio State. We mostly just met randomly at college and come together to play music."
"Of course, there's a story that people love to tell, that Zack met Dave [Shaw, lead vocalist] when he was riding home on his bike and heard Dave singing on his front porch," Ingraham continued. "I guess it's a good story, but that's just the kind of guy Zack has always been."
Regardless of how the group met, its chemistry is undeniable. Although the group hasn't taken off nationally yet, it isn't from lack of effort. Short tours with JJ Grey and Mofro, Gov't Mule, Trombone Shorty, and even Rebirth Brass band and Galactic have helped expose the band to larger audiences. But mostly the band has been focusing on short tours, casting a wide net in as many markets as possible and returning to the places where they go over well. The group already has a strong following in Florida as well as New York and Ohio and is looking to break into the Colorado market as well after recently signing with HardHead Management (who also handles Gov't Mule) and Madison House Publicity, which should open new doors for the band. With those pieces in place, you can expect to see the group expand on its appearances at CMJ, Hangout and VooDoo music festivals next year, with the potential of becoming a fixture of the summer festival circuit over the next couple of years.
Although City of Sound has only been out for roughly nine months, a band like The Revivalists is continually creative. When asked if the band was currently planning on a return to the studio for a follow up, Ingraham said, "Yes and no. We're always writing, but right now we're talking about ... possibly doing a new release of the older stuff. We're also looking into studio time to have a new release out late next year."
"It's kind of weird because we've got a lot of back catalog that still has a lot of mileage left in it and we really like the songs," he continued. "At the same time, we've got this one song, "Monster," that we haven't recorded yet, but we played at Jazzfest and the YouTube video went viral, so everywhere we go, people are singing it with us, so we're really excited about that and what the future might bring."
Before the band breaks out in other markets and becomes a fixture of the summer festivals, we've got a chance to welcome Ingraham back and make this a second home to the rest of the band as it's on the verge of something bigger. Don't miss your chance to catch The Revivalists at The Vanguard on Thursday night, Dec. 6, as the band makes its way south for shows in Dallas on Friday and at Antone's in Austin on Saturday. Thursday evening's show at The Vanguard begins at 8pm and tickets are only $5 in advance or $7 at the door.
If The Revivalists aren't enough to fill your soulful void for the weekend and you're willing to get your fix from celluloid, you won't want to miss this weekend's engagement of The Big Easy Express at Circle Cinema -- 12 S. Lewis Ave. -- this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The film won the Audience Choice award at SXSW this past March and has been slowly making its way across the county in limited distribution, finally arriving in Tulsa this weekend.
If you haven't heard about the film yet, it's one music lovers and indie fans won't want to miss. More than a documentary, the film is essentially 67 minutes of music tied together with band commentary as Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes travel across the U.S. via train for six concerts, culminating in the bands playing at a high school football stadium with a full marching band accompanying Mumford & Sons.
The bands recreated the show on Saturday night at SXSW this year with another show at a high school in Austin. While the music and concert footage are what will draw most fans, the most interesting part of the film is the interaction between bands. Who knew that Old Crow Medicine Show had such a profound influence on Mumford & Sons or that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes blended so well with its more folk inspired peers to bridge the gap between rock and bluegrass?
The film is both a great piece of cinematography and an engrossing piece of music, so if you're a fan of any (or all) of the bands, you won't want to miss it. The film will be playing at Circle Cinema this Friday and Saturday nights at 9:30pm and Sunday at 7:30pm. You may want to go online at circlecinema.com, however, and buy your tickets in advance, because this limited engagement should sell out quickly.
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