The Railroad Revival Tour kicked off last Thursday right here in Oakland, and I was lucky enough to score a ticket: Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show, traveling exclusively in vintage rail cars, playing concerts at six unique outdoor locations along the route.
The scene: Middle Harbor Shoreline park in West Oakland. The patches of grass brimming with hipsters and hippies. I stood in a sea of cowboy boots, feathers, and frayed suede. Behind the stage, the famous Oakland cranes towered in the distance. To my right the the San Francisco bay, the water shimmering as the sun descended, the Golden Gate Bridge aglow in the distance.
Old Crow Medicine Show kicked off the show with a high energy set which had me two-steppin’ up a storm. Out of the three bands, I’m least familiar with their music but boys can break it down. Their energy is contagious and their musicianship undeniable. I also was surprised to learn that there are in fact no women vocalist in that band. Listen to the harmonies in Wagon Wheel and you will know what I mean.
Next to take the stage was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, which was the band I was most looking forward to seeing. They eased from sound check right into Up From Below, and so the magical journey began. Maybe they didn’t really have a set list in mind when they began and that’s why they kept asking the audience what they wanted to hear. Maybe lead singer Alex Ebert wasn’t sufficiently warmed up and 40 Day Dream literally came to a halt as he tried to reach for the high note. And maybe he stumbled on stage disoriented as if a large lily pad had unfurled and he had just dropped down from it. His hair was barely contained in a messy high ponytail and it threatened to topple down every time his lanky body swayed from side to side. He was dressed like a cross between a guru and cult leader. But none of that mattered. It was impossible to take your eyes off of him. I was ready to follow. And so he led me through all of my favorite Edward Sharpe songs, he slowed them down, he sped them up, he changed the words, he tweaked the melodies. And I followed willingly singing and dancing my little heart out. It all ended with Home. They knew the audience was waiting for it and they delivered. The backdrop to that famous whistle intro happened to be the sunset on the water so yeah only mildly epic.
Mumford and Sons closed the show. Their harmonies were pitch-perfect. The lead singer’s voice is sultry and scratchy and smooth all at once. Like buttah. My only complaint with this band is their songs start to sound the same after a while. There is the slow start, then we speed it up, crank up the banjo, crescendo and then back down then up again. It’s a bit predictable and formulaic, having said that, they have absolutely perfected the formula. The lead singer asked us several times if it would be alright if they played us some new songs. The British, they are so polite. The new songs were actually a highlight for me, demonstrating that they are in fact beginning to stray from the formula and it’s fantastic. The best part of their performance however, was the banjo player’s hip thrust. I’ve never seen such suggestive dancing from a man with a banjo.
The show ended with all three bands on stage singing “This Train”. You could tell they were having such a fun time with each other, and it was so fun to watch I didn’t want it to end. I was ready to jump on that train and follow them across the country. Best concert of the year thus far.