On Friday, April 22, The Railroad Revival Tour made its second stop at an old shipping yard in San Pedro. In a mere six days, Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros and the revelatory Mumford and Sons, will have trekked from Oakland to New Orleans, with stops in both Arizona and Texas. The tour itself, which invokes Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac in its pursuit of anachronistic Americana, moves by way of 15 vintage railcars, and will have covered 2,000 miles by journey’s end.
According to Railroad Revival Tour’s official press release, “Today’s mass transit is built for speed and volume, which suits our modern lifestyle. But sometimes the notion of landscape and discovery is left behind.”
Given the nostalgic and unique nature of the tour, the outdoor location at San Pedro was within walking distance to the train tracks, allowing the performers to gesture to their steel sweetheart for added poignancy during the show. Food trucks, billowing with smoke, pulled up along the water, sending smells of simmering shrimp across the yard, while sailors watched for free from the docks. Even cops armed to the teeth and angry couldn’t disrupt the event’s surreal and communal atmosphere. That day, the sun seemed to set a little later, as if to forestall the imposition of the 10 p.m. curfew.
Although doomed to impart to only a fraction of the crowd that would arrive later on in the evening, the opening act, Old Crow Medicine Show, charmed the audience with an endearing set of buoyant bluegrass and alternative-country tunes. The band’s most popular numbers, “Wagon Wheel,” and “Tell It To Me,” however, were merely top notes in a set of brilliant instrumental outbursts and collaborative efforts with those they call “The Mumford Boys.” Interestingly, “The Mumford Boys” would prove an apt title for the English folk rockers, who struggled to keep up with Old Crow Medicine Show’s lead singer and consummate fiddler, Ketch Secor, during a tandem effort. What this serves to say is that Ketch and his seasoned confederates are an incredibly underrated band, but also that Mumford and Sons is still a very young one. During the final set of the evening, Marcus Mumford, lead singer and guitarist of Mumford and Sons, made a point of saying that he was humbled to share the stage with the other bands. As he continues to collaborate with such talented veterans, one can only imagine how prolific and exciting Mumford’s maturation will be.
After Old Crow Medicine Show cooed and cawed for an hour with the energy of a thousand American rebels, then came the cosmic yodeling of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. After a sloppy entry with a reverb-heavy version of “Desert Song,” leader singer Alex Ebert struggled to capture the hypnotic quality of many of the group’s recognizable numbers. Ebert appeared flustered throughout, and in turn, the familial mojo of his band was severely thrown off. The ad hoc style of their set, which included vexing discussions amongst the band members between songs in order to decide what they would play next, also significantly detracted from the experience and decimated the linearity that Mumford and Sons was fortunately able to maintain during its set. Despite the undeniable energy of “40 Day Dream,” “Janglin” and “Om Nashi Me,” Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros lulled the standing crowd into restlessness.
Mumford and Sons, clearly the most widely understood of the trio, was met with a roar of applause as soon as the lights dimmed over San Pedro. Combining the novelty of some terrific new tracks such as “Lover’s Eyes” and “Lover of The Light,” with the guttural and glorified passion of their album Sigh No More, Mumford and Sons commanded the stage with unearthly presence.
Unlike most young bands of today, Mumford and Sons truly does have enough music to fill an hour. Marcus Mumford’s voice, both raw and haunting, makes the music vulnerable and beautifully imperfect. And from the eerie stillness of the first verses to the electricity of each song’s characteristic breakdown, Mumford and Sons refuses to be contained.
Despite some technical complications and a few underwhelming numbers, The Railroad Revival Tour is still very much worth seeing. If nothing else, the tour proves one thing: Music is alive and well, and people, young and old, drunk and sober, will stay standing for five hours just to be a part of that glory.