After The Revivalists’ set at the Voodoo Music Experience this year, one member of the local music business community declared that the group was the next Better Than Ezra — the band that would have a national impact and get radio play around the country.
In concert, the potential is clear. The songs follow in the acoustic rock path blazed by Dave Matthews Band with similarly clear, engaging songs, and singer Dave Shaw radiates an appealing sincerity.
In concert, they also tap into New Orleans’ love of improvisation and jams. They’ll headline a New Year’s Eve show at the Civic Theatre Tuesday night with Shreveport’s Dirtfoot opening.
The Revivalists’ appeal isn’t a secret. Readers of OffBeat Magazine voted them Best Rock Band and their album City of Sound Best Rock Album last January. The national indie label Wind-Up Records signed the group and will re-release City of Sound nationally this spring while the band records a new album.
The re-release will be packaged with a second disc of material recorded live over the last four months.
The process of selecting songs for that disc was a humbling one.
“Some nights the magic occurs and some nights it doesn’t,” Shaw said, laughing. Until they began work on the live disc, they hadn’t listened to their own shows, but Shaw says the process was valuable.
“I played a lot of sports in high school, and I watched a lot of game tape,” he said. “This was like that. We had to listen to game tape.”
What they heard was how songs had evolved in performance over the years, often finding grooves that better suited the songs. But they also heard how some of the parts that members played had drifted in detrimental ways.
“Less is more,” Shaw said. “You’re able to hone in on the true essence of a song and shed off some of the layers of fat that accumulate over the years.”
The process wasn’t always a comfortable one, but it was productive. “We’re a better band now. I can 100 percent tell you that.”
The Revivalists started organically when guitarist Zack Feinberg biked down a street, heard Shaw singing on his porch, and stopped to talk.
But good-natured evolution only goes so far; at some point a band has to think about how to grow.
“You want to be serious about your art,” Shaw said. “It means a lot to you, and it means a lot to other people.”
He is trying to take on more of a leadership role in the band and put what’s best for the song first. “You look at Rolling Stones albums; Keith Richards played bass on a lot of those songs.”
He believes the Revivalists have taken steps down that path, frequently making hard musical decisions as egolessly as they can manage.
Good parts are shelved if they don’t suit the song, and the same applies to Shaw’s lyrics. Generally, the band members agree.
When they don’t?
“Then the democratic process begins,” Shaw said.
2013 was the band’s biggest year yet, much of it spent working the festival circuit.
The Revivalists played Bonnaroo for the first time, where Shaw estimates that 3,000 people attended their tent show with possibly 10,000 watching in total, including those who gathered outside.
Judging by the crowd response, he thinks perhaps two-thirds of the audience was hearing the band for the first time, which made their response all the more gratifying.
“That was some of the best energy and most energy I’ve felt at a live show,” Shaw said.
But one of his most indelible musical moments of the year was one he saw, not played.
The Revivalists performed at the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala., where Stevie Wonder was one of the headliners. “It was a life-changing moment, honestly, to see how high of a level someone could get to,” Shaw said.
Part way through “Higher Ground,” Wonder decided to move to Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” calling out the chord changes to his surprised bandmates.
“It was so awesome to see the free-ness,” Shaw said.