By Martin Cizmar It’d be hard to pinpoint exactly when Woody Guthrie joined Iggy Pop, Wayne Kramer and Johnny Cash as a proto punk demigod. Somewhere along the line, he seems to have slipped in there though, at least for certain segments of the punk world. The Revival Tour, which stopped in Tempe last night, is probably the best evidence you’ll find to that effect.
The Revival, soon wrapping up a 40-date run, features Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music, Tim Barry of Avail, Ben Nicols of Lucero and, for this date, Against Me!’s Tom Gabel, all playing acoustic. It’s a solid three-hour show, divided by sets that bleed in to each other as the musicians come on and off the stage. You could say they’re punk rock’s answer to the Traveling Wilburys – a super group of singers from established bands who’ve come together to have some fun, though, unlike the Wilburys the recorded output seems to be limited to a single song (download below).
Photos by Victor Palagano Ragan, Barry and Gabal are all big names in the punk world, and the show drew an impressive crowd, people packed in tight in front of the stage, staring intently at the performers and shouting out the lyrics to the songs they knew with fist pumps. Most of the songs were played in stripped down fashion – voice and acoustic guitar, open mic night style – but along the way, the boys were supported by an exceptional backing band comprised of Jon Gaunt on fiddle, Todd Beene on pedal steel, and Digger Barnes on upright bass.
Gabel, who’s Florida-based punk band Against Me! saw its major label debut named album of the year by Spin last year, was definitely the star of the show. Opening things up, he got a great reaction to “Random Hearts” off his just-released debut solo EP, Heart Burns. Against Me!’s “Joy” got even louder cheers as much of the audience sang along.
Tim Barry, who has fronted Virginia’s Avail since the late 80s, performed next, effortlessly trading melodic hardcore for a twangier sound that seemed perfectly natural. “Dog Bumped,” an upbeat and unapologetic tale of a man who shot his sister’s abuser, was a highlight.
Nicols, who’s band Lucero already has a country-tinged sound, performed most of his set backed only by Beene’s haunting pedal steel. He got a great reception in a set made up mostly of his band’s songs, with “Nights Like These” and “The War” making the highlight reel.
Ragan, who’s been doing the country thing full time now after splitting up Hot Water Music in 2006, got big reactions for some of his old band’s material, and for an Alkaline Trio cover, but really hit his stride with “Geraldine,” off his 2007 album Feast or Famine.
Things really took off when everyone came together for the last two songs, an original written on tour and a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.” It was a full-on hardcore hootenanny, a jam I’d imagine Woody would be happy to join in on, strumming away on his famous fascist-killing guitar and calling for one more round of the chorus.
Critic's Notebook: Last Night: The Revival tour (Tom Gabel of Against Me!, Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music, Tim Barry of Avail and Ben Nicols of Lucero) at The Clubhouse in Tempe on Nov. 5.
Better Than: Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).”
Personal Bias: Did Spin really think Against Me!’s New Wave was the best album of last year?
Random Detail: I lost count of how many times I heard the word "Vietnam" in a lyric, but I'm pretty sure it was more than five.
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By the Way: I’m willing to bet there aren’t too many shows where a higher percentage of the audience had a tattoo in tribute to one of the performers than this one. As promoter Psyko Steve said to me, "If you like one of these bands you really like them, it's not like you just have one or two of their records and think it's OK."