WHAT: Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show
WHERE: San Pedro
The Railroad Revival Tour is like the Festival Express but with embedded sponsorships, double the dates, quadruple the ticket prices, and a super savvy marketing ploy that includes mp3 downloads of live recordings from the tour in the ticket price. Pretty sweet when you remember that the Grateful Dead made their fans record the shows themselves! Launched in Oakland on the 21st, the train pulled into San Pedro last night before heading in the desert's direction.
The tour's already been branded, but the San Pedro stop should've been called BROlkfest 2011.
Old Crow Medicine Show transported San Pedro east to a Tennessee fair with a pastiche of hooks, masculine harmonies and banjo solos. Distracted by a pack of cops on Segways or waiting in line for a "world famous shrimp tray", many missed the girls throwing bikini bottoms onto the stage after the very first song! Huge speaker chains dangled over either edge of the stage, which was dressed with a giant cock clutching a train in his talons rendered in a style that combined classic tattoo with Native American fetish. I spent most of the first set admiring the passion of those thousands of fans who had assembled in a South Bay parking lot to celebrate this re-performance of rural spirit.
And boy did they come out with bells on! Fashion highlights included a Scottish inspired Goth complete with metal shin guards and kilt, several pairs of sincere overalls, teenage girls with no pants on, a 10-year-old ginger reading Harry Potter 4 (so behind), lots of fur and feathers, a mom wearing a corset and her 8-year-old daughter in a fringed tube top like some gypsy prostitute, and about five women so pregnant they were about t minus 20 seconds of jump roping away from giving birth (one of whom was drinking a big plastic cup full of Budweiser). A very family friendly show.
ANYWAY, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are all they were contrived to be. Entranced by their catchy melodies and frenzied fans, I was jumping up and down by the last song. Former Ima Robot member Alex Ebert's re-imagining of himself has created a cult following even L. Ron Hubbard would be impressed by- but the only personality tests these fans endured was locating the crack in their voices and the rhythm in their steps.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros make people happy. A gaggle of transcendent musicians featuring an angelic accordion player and a sage trumpeter (my favorites) as well as whiskey-throated ex-lovers and enough biographical mythology to make Joseph Beuys jealous, only the cynical or the high-falutin' could make it through a whole show without a smile. Years ago, I found "Edward Sharpe" questioning strangers in a teepee at Manimal Festival regarding the whereabouts of his magical flute. Tonight I found Him in the sumptuous voice of an unknown child brought onstage from the crowd to participate in the choir.
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As for Mumford & Sons, a friend of mine described them best as "Power folk, like what Arcade Fire would do if they had only three instruments." The reaction they incited was rather religious, a good ol' Easter weekend revival, climaxing in a full company rendition of "This Train is Bound for Glory" featuring every member of every band on the tour, putting the stage and history to the test. Only time will tell if this choo choo phenomenon ages as well as the one to which it refers.
Regardless of taste or reverence for the original, this tour represents a movement that has made quite an impact of late. A dear friend of mine, who had been travelling on the train with the bands, defined the experience as "completely surreal" and noted that each jam session culminated in a series of happy country chords. "It's beautiful! And, like, psychotic." As a screaming blonde flailed about next to me simultaneously making out with her boyfriend (whose right arm featured a sleeve of surfing dragons) and fist pumping along with the music, I could only nod in agreement and enjoy the spectacle.