A Roots Orchestra Like No Other – The Dustbowl Revival wsg The Lifers @ The Horseshoe Tavern

Where have these folks been all my life? I’ve been to some pretty high-energy shows, with some pretty talented players, but very few have been of the caliber of The Dustbowl Revival. Coming in to the concert having only ever heard one of their tunes, I was absolutely blown away by the level of entertainment offered from this group out of Venice, California in their first ever Toronto performance. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this free show on a Monday night, but I can sure as hell tell you that I was far from disappointed. With capable support from Guelph’s The Lifers as an opening act, this was an evening one can’t help but talk about for months to come.

The lines of genre classification can be easily blurred when examining a group such as The Dustbowl Revival. They have been described as a “Swing Band-Brass Band Mashup”, “Swing Grass”, or a “Roots Orchestra” (I think I like the last one best), but these terms hardly do justice to the hearty blend of styles and sounds that emerge from this troupe. Fusing bluegrass, New Orleans jazz, old-school blues, and other Americana schools, the group presents itself as a collective with an occasionally shifting cast. Regardless of their exact definition, this group has earned a reputation for raucous live shows that eventually crowned them as “The Best Live Band in LA” by the LA Weekly in 2013. With two full-lengths and one EP released, there’s have more than enough material from this outfit to keep an attentive listener busy poring over the intricacies of their arrangements. In the past few years, The ‘Revival has brought their unique brand of Americana across the US, over to Europe, and now finally to Toronto.

Opening the evening was Guelph-based duo The Lifers. Comprised of sisters Anita and Liv Cazzola, the pair have been performing together in different incarnations over the past several years, all leading to this most recent manifestation of musical expression. What this pair brings to the stage is a chemistry that is practically tangible. No fights backstage in the style of Oasis for these two, they get along swimmingly and it shows in both their writing and performing. With Anita playing guitar and Liv tackling a wide array of instruments, the sisters keep audiences hooked through smooth folk songwriting. What really sets these two apart from the pack though, are their awe-inspiring vocal harmonies. This was their first ever performance at The Horseshoe, and they brought their A-game. As they continue to build a fan base and grow as an act, I would not be the least bit surprised to see their return to The Horseshoe. Having released an EP in the summer of 2o14, The Lifers are currently completing further recordings and performing regularly. Their sights are firmly set on a summer of releases, travels, and incredible performances.

The Dustbowl Revival had barely played a note before the dance-floor was packed; such was the nature of their performance. With strictly acoustic instruments, these folks managed to trump the energy of any rock outfit that I’ve ever come across. It wasn’t just the sheer combined skill of the band (which is pretty well immeasurable, by the way), but the way that they played together as a unit. All of their pieces were arranged brilliantly, with each member knowing their exact part; not a single toe was stepped on. Much to everyone’s surprise, the set even featured a Tom Petty cover, ripping through the classic Last Dance with Mary Jane.

(As a side note, the stage sound was excellent – no easy feat when accommodating so many performers and acoustic instruments under one roof)

One moment among many that made this show a particularly memorable one, was when the band decided to join the crowd on the floor. Venturing off the stage en masse, the performers brought their acoustic instruments and continued to groove and trade solos as the audience danced and jived right beside them. More than just musicians on a stage, these are a group of savvy entertainers that provide one of a kind experiences for their adoring fans. This was a performance that not only captivated the audience, it interacted with it. 

With a mighty blend of instruments and genres, The Dustbowl Revival absolutely blew up the Horseshoe, and made a fan out of many. Regardless of your own musical preferences and background, the excellence of their live show is undeniable and it’s practically impossible to keep from at least tapping your toes – if not getting on your feet. It may have been there first time in Toronto, but I certainly hope they’ll be back sometime real soon. I’ll be the first buying a ticket.


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