Review – Reivers at The Parish

By V.M. Black. Austin 360 website, Feb. 11, 2008.

Saturday and Sunday evenings’ sold-out Reivers reunion shows at the Parish Room were a straight-up time machine trip back to Austin’s adolescence, circa the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Back then, inexpensive Shiner Bock and Lone Star flowed in the bars and on the streets, the greenbelt buckled full of water, traffic was rare, high-rise condos nonexistent and the music scene was anointed “the next Athens” before the Seattle scene was dubbed “the next Austin.” And the high octane indie rock band band the Reivers were one of the tightest, largest and most rockin’ draws in town.

Austin is now mockingly referred to as “little L.A.” by the old guard. California license plates litter the gridlock on I-35. Austin institutions such Liberty Lunch and Les Amis succumbed to corporate entities. And a music scene once so focused on perfect pop songs now grapples with sound ordinances and rehashed disco beats and new wave revivalism.

Yet for all the years and rose-hued shades between old Austin and nouveau Austin, you’d never know that the Reivers — vocalist/guitarist John Croslin, vocalist/guitarist Kim Longacre, bassist Cindy Toth and drummer Garrett Williams — had ever given up the rock ’n’ roll ghost. The only telltale signs of the passing years’ wear were a few gray hairs and a slight decrease in the beats-per-minute during their songs.

During Saturday’s show, the audience seemed to be made up of of fans from out of town and old-school Austinites who apparently don’t get out to shows much anymore judging from the way they greeted each other with the astonished joy of long-lost friends. The only audience members younger than 30 seemed to be the Reivers’ young children, who watched the reunion regalia in amazement, absorbing the overwhelming knowledge that their humble parents are slumbering rock stars.

The first few songs — “Ragamuffin Man” and “Electra” — had their fair share of dropped drumsticks, off-key notes and guitar clambakes. But by the fourth song, “Lazy Afternoon,” Longacre found a comfortable grip on the reigns of her ever-booming voice, arguably the most powerful weapon in the band’s arsenal. When her singing emanated from her stomach and her diaphragm, when her mouth hollowed wide on her unique “Ohhhhhhs” and “Wooooos” — she returned to the incomparable form of her youth.

Longacre was always the band’s resident rocker, and Saturday proved some things don’t change; it’s no accident that she stands center stage. Longacre hadn’t lost a step in her rock moves and guitar slinging.

For Croslin’s parts, his playing didn’t appear loose and free until a quarter-way through the set as the band raced through “Araby,” his allegro second act to the James Joyce short story.

The Reivers’ poetic lyrics were even more poignant as Croslin’s “you got bigger” line from “Ragamuffin Man” and the entirety of “Things Don’t Change” became more on-the-nose instead of tongue-in-cheek.

Drummer Williams and bassist Toth appeared to not have lost any steps in their skills, despite the fact that Williams hasn’t been seen playing drums around town since the Reivers disbanded.

All of the visual and sonic elements that made the band a standout of “the New Sincerity” music scene from back-in-the-day were still tangible: Toth and Longacre’s synchronized dancing during “Lazy Afternoon”; Longacre’s hurried arms flying back and forth during “Without My Sight”; and Croslin and Longacre’s dual-lead vocals propelled by their spot-on harmonies and counter melodies throughout.

The audience was all euphoric smiles the entire show. Yet, the most telling smiles of the evening emanated from Longacre as she looked at Croslin with the warmth of a little league tyke eying his parents after a home run. The connection between their two souls was palpable, and the gravitas and fragility of life and love — lyrical themes in the Reivers songs — was exponentially abundant. Longacre’s smile expressed the complexity of emotions the audience’s collective consciousness was telepathically communicating back to the band.

Set highlights included: “Wait for Time,” “Star Telegram,” “Once In A While,” “Freight Train Rain,” “Baby,” and “Legendary Man.” During “Once In A While,” Longacre sang off-mic to herself during Croslin’s verses only the way that someone who’s deeply, soulfully feeling and loving what they are doing can.

The band’s first encore was requisite: “Without My Sight” and “Translate Slowly” nearly brought Toth to tears as the audience sang every word. The second encore was humbling and appeared off-the-cuff: the Peanuts’ theme song “Linus and Lucy” complete with Toth’s walking bass skills while the final song of the evening — Thin Lizzy’s “The Cowboy Song” – gave Croslin a moment to have as much fun as the audience interpreting a song that he self-admittedly loves.

Opening act the Rite Flyers proved that they are one of the most underappreciated bands in Austin, mining a heavy Beatles influence to produce perfectly golden pop songs overflowing with catchy hooks and sonic craft.

Personal to the Reivers: Kim and John, this weekend was more evidence that your songs make a whole lot of people feel happy to be alive. The business model of the music business that did your band a disservice is now a dinosaur sinking in its own primordial fecal waste. Please use the new distribution business model and release a new record with at least four songs that have the tempo of “Araby” and/or “Wait for Time”.

Personal to South by Southwest organizers: Among the bands that are cherry-picked for showcases, the Reivers have to be the most deserving. Please do Austin and SXSW attendees a solid and organize a special showcase for the Reivers; nothing would be sweeter, or more appropriate, than to have them open for R.E.M.