AmericanA to Z: Zeitgeist (The Reivers)

It’s the end of an era. After three complete journeys around the alphabet we finally reach the end of our A-Z series, and what a way to finish. In the first flush of early ’80s college rock bands there was Zeitgeist, a talented, locally adored, critically lauded quartet from Austin, Texas. They were part of an Austin indie subgenre called New Sincerity, supposedly named by The Skunks’ Jesse Sublett, which also included Daniel Johnston, Glass Eye, and Doctors’ Mob.

Zeitgeist’s 1984 debut album ‘Translate Slowly,’ released on Atlanta indie label DB Records, holds up extremely well after all these years. It is full of REM-like melodies and jangly Peter Buck-style guitar, a powerhouse rhythm section, and gritty, vulnerable songwriting. The contrasting male-female harmonies and call-and-response vocal lines from singer, main songwriter, and guitarist John Croslin and vocalist/guitarist Kim Longacre, are remarkably lovely, particularly on songs like ‘Cowboys’ and ‘End of the Day.’ They’re also consistently in tune, unlike many other male-female lead harmonies in Americana bands. Longacre’s and bassist/violinist Cindy Toth’s vocals also blend seamlessly. It’s easy to see why Zeitgeist were considered one of Texas’s best bands, winning an Austin Music Award in 1985. Ryan Adams later cited the band as a major influence.

Before releasing their second album, their major label debut ‘Saturday’ on Capitol Records, Zeitgeist were forced to change their name due to an obscure chamber group with the same name. So Zeitgeist suddenly became The Reivers, a moniker taken from a William Faulkner novel. There is a certain outlaw spirit to the name, as “reiver” is an old term for a thief or raider.

This abrupt name change happened during the pre-internet era, so if fans outside Texas didn’t happen to learn the news from a music publication, MTV, record store display, or recognize The Reivers from their cheerful 1987 video for ‘In Your Eyes’ – well, as far as they knew, Zeitgeist simply disappeared.

As The Reivers they continued to record and tour the college rock circuit but faced a perplexing lack of support from Capitol’s headquarters three states away. They released three strong, well crafted, mature, but underappreciated albums: ‘Saturday,’ ‘End of the Day,’ and possibly their best, ‘Pop Beloved.’ Like a lot of indie bands in Austin and across the country who were struggling in the early ‘90s, The Reivers disbanded in 1991, just before the era when they might have received much wider recognition.

Following the breakup Croslin developed an impressive reputation as an engineer and producer. Toth played with the Flying Saucers, Trigger Happy, and most recently Why Not Satellite. Longacre raised a family while occasionally working on musical projects.

The four members reunited for a few local shows in 2008 and continued working together under the name Right or Happy with keyboard player Eric Friend. They played under that moniker for four years, including a stellar SXSW performance, before reverting back to The Reivers name in 2013 and releasing an album of new material, ‘Second Story.’

The Reivers have been on “indefinite hiatus” since 2016. According to their official website, “As Kim says, they thoroughly enjoyed the last few years since reuniting but they felt they were becoming a bit of a nostalgia act, playing all the old songs all the time.”

Hopefully the band will reunite to record again one of these days, whatever they decide to call themselves.

Discography

Zeitgeist:

Zeitgeist EP (DB/Kickwood Records), 1984
Translate Slowly (DB), 1985

The Reivers:

Saturday (Capitol), 1987
Translate Slowly (DB), remixed and re-released, 1988
End of the Day (Capitol), 1989
Quality Time with The Reivers (Capitol), 1989
Pop Beloved (DB), 1991
Second Story (2013, Midsnicker Music)

Band members

John Croslin: vocals, guitar
Kim Longacre: vocals, guitar
Cindy Toth: vocals, bass, violin
Garrett Williams: drums
Eric Friend: keyboards

Author: Kimberly Bright

Freelance writer specializing in music and art, British and American music and cultural history, session musicians, overlooked and unsung artists, esoterica, subcultures, and quirky Americana. Forteana, folklore, and flyover states!

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