The Revivalists with Con Brio at the CatalystPaul Piazza
Fans and bands brave perilous weather to witness an epic show – The Revivalists with Con Brio at the Catalyst
Most of the roads leading to the Catalyst in Santa Cruz were in peril on the night The Revivalists and Con Brio were set to play at the venue. This particular Thursday night was the final night of four-straight days of torrential downpours throughout Northern California. Highway 17 was down to one lane with rivers of water running across the road. Multiple mudslides had occurred as well on the windy mountain road.
It took a white-knuckle ride to get to the show, but the end result was that the risk was worth it because this was such a unique and amazing show. The two groups recently began a western run that will take them from Fort Collins to Seattle before they part ways. This was somewhere near the mid point before they both split in different directions.
Both of the bands are on a big-time vertical trajectory at the moment, so it was special to catch them on the same night. And on this night, they both delivered the magic in a big way.
The youngsters in San Francisco’s Con Brio have steadily built momentum over the past few years behind steady touring and the high-voltage stage presence of vocalist Zeik McCarter. The Revivalists meanwhile, have been at it for almost a decade. The New Orleans band, who are regulars on the big stage Jazz Fest, have achieved a steady ascendance in the jam music world through stellar songwriting and riveting live performances.
However, that all changed in April last year (2016) when their song “Wish I knew you,” started to gain traction on radio. The song is from their great record “Men against Mountains” which was released in 2015.
Suddenly, the group found themselves playing the song on the Today Show, then Conan O’ Brien, and most recently Ellen along performing on radio shows like last December’s Concert for Kids at the Masonic. Quite a change for this band that was already legendary for steaming up smaller venues around the country, because suddenly they had a song that was number one on the adult alternative charts!
On this night, the group came out bare-knuckled with “Catching Fireflies” from 2010’s “Vital signs” album giving the diehards in the audience a treat to what got the attention of the Rev Heads (as their diehard fans are called ) in the first place. Front man David Shaw is legendary for his forays into audience and on this night he did not disappoint. By the second song, he had left the stage and ascended into the balcony to sing “You and I” with the crowd.
Throughout their set, the septet were on point. Saxophonist Rob Ingraham seemed in buoyant spirits-dancing, singing and playing with fierce joy. Ed Williams on the pedal steel guitar was a study in cool and killer licks from his pick covered fingers. Drummer Andrew Campanelli and George Gekas had the ever-changing rhythms on lockdown. Meanwhile, Michael Girardot bounded between keyboards and trumpet and just generally bounced all over the stage in general. To counter all of this energy, Zack Feinberg is a calm, steady force on guitar, who happens to be one hell of a shredder.
One of the evening’s sweetest moments, was a quiet one late in the show, when Feinberg picked on his acoustic guitar while Shaw was joined by Ingraham and Girardot for a ear-kissing, three-part harmony on “King of what.” It was simply beautiful and felt like it was what this night called for.
Later, Shaw bounded back up into the balcony and then down onto the floor for “Criminal,” which is one of the band’s all time great pulsing numbers. It shows their many layers of styles, complexity and dynamics all in one sonically pleasing jam.
Next, they encored with the title track from “Men against mountains,” another gorgeous sounding track, before playing “Wish I knew you.” The catchy, melancholy tune instantly turned into a massive sing-along. It’s been great to observe how many new fans the band has gained due to this song’s radio play and how they seem to be gravitating towards the new but learning the rest of the band’s catalog as well (as they should). After that encore, the band stayed onstage and invited up McCarter and guitarist Benjamin Andrews from Con Brio to sit in for a a chillingly soulful take on Prince’s “When doves cry.”
Earlier Con Brio had killed during a furious 45 minute set that featured songs from their recent album “Paradise” as well as the great cut “Kiss the sun” from the EP of the same name. They added a bit “Black hole sun” to the end of this one. The San Francisco band has blended Bay Area funk and psychedelic soul to come up with a sound and a reputation for a magical live show that has gotten them many great gigs. Look for them to headline the Fillmore for the first time in April and then to make a return appearance at Bottle Rock in May.
Both of these bands are on the way up. Way, way up. As Con Brio’s song “Liftoff” suggests, they are both rocketing upward and it couldn’t be happening to two better bands. So don’t go on wishing you knew them, check ‘em out for yourself and be part of the magic.
Photos & story By: Paul Piazza