l-r: Tim Barry, Chuck Ragan, Ben Nichols Photos by Craig Hlavaty
The Revival Tour is the kind of tour that keeps little beer companies like Texas' own Lone Star in business. And it's no accident that, not even an hour into the show Monday night, the bar at Walter's ran out of bottles of the cheap hearty stuff and had to go exclusively to draft.
To say the bar ran out of Lone Star may seem wholly inconsequential to a live-music review. But if you've ever spent hours among good friends trading war stories and comparing social scars, then the beer shortage and tone of this show make complete and total sense.
First off, with a show featuring the lead singers of four disparate punk bands of various lineages comes infinite depths and influences, to say nothing of the amassed talent and spirit. Chuck Ragan is from Hot Water Music, the post-hardcore/emo juggernaut that sprouted out of Gainesville, Florida. That very scene also birthed Tom Gabels' band, Against Me!.
Tim Barry is from defunct punkers Avail, while Kevin Seconds fronts the dormant 7 Seconds. Ben Nichols is from Lucero, a group that is easily one of country-rock's most revered and fetishized. Throw in a backing band rounded out by a pedal steel guitar, fiddle and upright bass, and you get the makings of a four-man jam that rivals anything that crawls out of Kerrville.
Opener Seconds (above) starts the show with a more Billy Bragg-ish set than we will see tonight, which serves as an ample initiation for anyone unsure of what the night will bring. Seconds belts a few tunes from his new acoustic catalog, like the standout "Disappearing Girl."
At first it was hard to make out that it actually was Seconds, with his fuller presence and healthy gray beard. It makes since, seeing that the straight-edge 7 Seconds were among the first wave of '80s West Coast punk bands, and toured with Black Flag.
Save for Seconds, most of the show was a true acoustic-jam atmosphere with the four headliners playing solo sets and showing up in each other's sets all night. Gabels (right) trotted out tracks from his just-released Heart-Burns EP, which he also showcased at his Cactus Records in-store Monday afternoon. It's darker stuff than Against Me!'s more radio-friendly material, especially songs like "Harsh Realms" that reference a more claustrophobic and mature feeling than maybe the Warped Tour kids are ready for.
Tim Barry hails from Richmond, Virginia, but listening to his set, he could easily be from Katy. The Avail frontman has the outlaw-country mess in spades, and songs like "South Hill" exist on the same plane as anything off Steve Earle's Copperhead Road. Barry's set is the most Texas Country - as someone slurring at the bar insists.
His voice is the most down-home, and the backing pedal steel seems to melt into his baritone at each turn. "Church of Level Track" is the starkest and plaintive song here, like Barry channeling Springsteen, albeit a really morose Springsteen.
Ben Nichols (above) is the most amiable drunk I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with, spilling Wild Turkey on him just but a year and a half ago. The Lucero frontman has a legion of die-hards who hang on his every lyric and chord like so many Dylanologists.
He does a version of the lost Replacements b-side "If Only You Were Lonely"; The Mats have always been a cover staple for Nichols and Lucero. He does the title track from his own forthcoming solo EP, The Last Pale Light in the West, and if the rest of that EP is anything like that, expect Iron and Wine-style praise and worship.
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Chuck Ragan (right) has one of punk rock's most naked, striking voices. His vocals turned each Hot Water Music track into a call to arms for working-class kids and the beaten down. Ragan's new acoustic work continues that same trajectory, but with a few more years raising a family and seeing the world tacked on. "The Boat" stands with anything he ever did with HWM, covering familiar lyrical territory with a more weathered world view.
The show ends with all four guys onstage - four guitars, four voices, belting out the tours theme song, "Revival Road." If this is how a natural progression from punk rock sounds, then sign my ass up and I'll learn how to play a zither or something.
Just make sure there's a Lone Star truck following us. We're not made of stone. - Craig Hlavaty