Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

From HSW. Enjoy the Pumpkinbeatles:



And for the hell of it, some musical references to Halloween:

  • Ryan Adams refers to his fans collectively as Halloweenheads. There is a song of the same name on Easy Tiger. There is a much better song (bonus track on LIH) simply titled "Halloween" that is much more with your iTunes download.
  • Dave Matthews Band's "Halloween", from the brilliant Before These Crowded Streets.
  • The song "Frank's Wild Years" from the album Swordfishtrombones, wherein Tom Waits describes Frank's arson, saying the fire burnt "all Halloween orange and chimney red."
Famous musicians born today include Larry Mullen, Johnny Marr, Robert Pollard, and Vanilla Ice. Hooray.

Enjoy yourselves, folks!

Friday, October 30, 2009

HSW Newsflash: New Spoon! New Spoon!


Hipsters everywhere rejoice: There's new Spoon on the way (P4k reporting). 11 tracks of funky-cool goodness, no doubt rife with thumping beats, chunky guitars, snappy EP, and smooth basslines. The 11-song affair is titled Transference, and we're already holding a place for it in the Best of 2010 list. If it's anything like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, we're all in luck.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Summer Roundup: Best of the Summer

Last night I was sipping some pumpkiny microbrew, pregaming a bit for a haunted hayride later in the evening. Fall fare abound, it struck me that summer was nothing more than an extinguished wick and a tendril of dense smoke. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning red, and it's cool enough that I no longer get swampass during my lunchbreak walk to Subway. Yes, fall has arrived.

I look back on mid-2009 with fondness, both musically and otherwise. I think of idling in twilight beach traffic as the Dirty Projectors projected dirtily from my dinky Focus. Grizzly Bear comes to mind, too, soundtracking my late-night drive during a rampaging squall that flooded most of this sea-level peninsula. Also a couple of memorable personal musical experiences, including a weekend jam at fellow Whiskeybomb Ben's house with he and Thomas; as well as a full-on backwoods, moonlit, beersoaked quad-guitar jam with all 3 HSW writers (plus Ben) playing into the the wee-hours.

Memories firmly catalogued, let's get to the one thing that's very much the lifeblood of this blog (and, let's face it, all blogs): Objectifying subjective things. I'd initially conceived this piece as a 'songs of summer 09' list, but it evolved into several other brief categories. Here's the blow-by-blow:

Song of the Summer:

Cass McCombs
"Harmonia"


(Sadly no youtube video available...check out Myspace, LaLa, or something similar.)

"Friend of mine," Cass coos, "Let me show you how the days in-between have become so few." McCombs never really exposes what exactly he's referring to, but it becomes evident throughout the song. A continuing theme throughout the lyrics is the juxtaposition of serenity and tumult within the context of friendship. In the final verse, he describes himself plunging into a natural pool, smashing rocks along the way, but finally emerging to find "a friendly word". With the conclusive refrain "A friend is the end, friend of mine", he's ultimately subscribing to the durability of friendship. Perhaps this explains the song's title, a reference to the Greek goddess of harmony and concord (thank you Wikipedia). The song itself is a tender smile, a conservatively paced suggestion of an up-tempo song, like a jog in slow-motion. A lengthy instrumental stretch features some lovely pedal steel/arpeggiated guitar interplay. Perhaps representative of a friendship? Unlikely, but a nice coincidence for overanalytical reviews.

Runners up:

Dirty Projectors
"Temecula Sunrise"


While "Stillness Is the Move" is the surefire single, I find Temecula Sunrise to be album's most compelling track. A tale of domestic niceties, Dave Longstreth describes his life in a new home, and the pleasure he takes in witnessing the sunrise after a long night of salacious activity. It's a complex song, as seems requisite with the Projectors, but it boils down into a simple titular refrain. Added points for the brilliant analogy comparing the horizon to "an EKG of a dying woman".

Monsters of Folk
"Tamazcal"


As dirty as I feel giving the nod to Oberst over M. Ward and Jim James, I really believe this Conor-penned MOF entry is one of the finer songs on the album. The lyrical hook of, "You're there and then you're gone" is a compliment to the eerie and mystic nature of the slowburning . James' presence is felt, via his soaring background vocals that carry the chorus. Token lyric that's pretty good but kinda silly 'cause Oberst Wrote it: "They're dancing in the valley/and the moon's the mirrorball." The song evokes the fading summer; fitting for a disc officially released on the season's final day.

Album of the Summer:

Cass McCombs
Catacombs


Click here for the review. Plenty of worthy contenders, but Cass's slowcore folk minimilast stylings win the season.

Band of the Summer:


The Avett Brothers, who I saw twice and went through a period of heavy immersion, finally tackling their far-back catalog and embracing the deeper cuts.

"Late-As-Usual" Album of the Summer:

Beck
Guero


I nabbed a used copy of Beck's 2005 release per Thomas's recommendation, and it's since become my favorite of his albums. I was well aware of the first three songs ("EPro", "Que Onda Guero", and "Girl") but the rest is just as lush and catchy. The cadence of "Scarecrow" will burrow deep in your skull, causing sporadic recitations of the words "Scarecrow's scarin' yourself".
________

My summer, in a musical nutshell. What are your choices?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whathaveyou


  • Currently listening to: Popular Songs by Yo La Tengo. I'm not all the way through it, but I'm currently stretching my thumbs for fear of developing a nagging cramp, as soon they'll be thrust skyward in approval. Hearty swaths of cosmic slow-core, chugging rockers, and strutworthy grooves abound. "Periodically Triple or Double" is equal parts James Brown, Lou Reed and Chris Isaac, complete with a multi-second carousel waltz intermission.
  • Wilco's playing the Savannah Arts Festival on March 25, 2010. Didn't hear about it til late, so was only able to nab a couple of row V seats. M. Ward is playing the same festival (which seems to be comprised of individual performances over a few weeks as opposed to a cluster of stages over a weekend,) but it'll be two days later on a Monday. Here's to hoping Southeastern tours are built around the performances.
  • Jack White says Britney Spears might be more authentic than Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, because she does exactly what she wants to do. Kneejerk reaction: "BLASPHEMER!" Snob reaction: "You know he's actually right." Rational reaction: "Saying Britney Spears is authentic because does exactly what she wants to do is like saying Miley Cyrus is a talented musician because she sells out concerts. The ends do not define the means. In fact, the reason Tom Waits is not more popular is because he's doing exactly what he wants to do. And does Bob Dylan have to release a ridiculous Christmas to stir up some novelty sales? Hell no. White is confusing personas with authenticity. Spears' songs (which, of course, she doesn't write) deal with more culturally relatable subject matter. Waits and Dylan write wild stories with characters like "Dave the Butcher" and "The Jack of Hearts". But is the nature of their art a reflection of their authenticity?" /breathes
  • Ed O'Brien says a new Radiohead album is happening, refuting earlier claims by Thom Yorke that the band would never release another LP. That smacked of smoke-blowing from the onset, but still, it's nice to know it was just that.
  • In related news, Pitchfork deemed Kid A the best album of the oughts. Man, I'm glad the world didn't know this in October 2000, when it was released. "Hi, here's Kid A. By the way, there won't be a better album for the next ten years." How depressing that woulda been. Anyway, I don't mind the choice. But Radiohead seems to push certain folks' buttons.
  • Vampire Weekend's new album will be out in January. First single "Cousins" is surprisingly uncatchy upon first listen. Will be on leak watch for the remainder of the year.
  • This is our 75th post of the year. Our 2009 total recently surpassed our 2007/2008 total. Thanks to all our readers, contributors, etc.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Follow-up to "Unoriginal Music Musings: Volume 2"

Last week, in the post entitled "Unoriginal Music Musings: Volume 2", we brought light to the "I can't stand his voice" argument, writing:
"...pop singers are unabashedly consumed with stressing each syllable to the breaking point. But that's more of a genre problem."
As usual, Dave Grohl makes with the awesome and mocks the shit out of the famed Creed discharge "With Arms Wide Open", at one point replacing the lyrics with "Enunciate-TAH/the way I please-AH!" Dave totally gets it.



True story: This song almost killed me once. Back in our collegiate days, fellow HSW contributor Thomas and I were at the campus gym, doing a little bench press. I was on the bench, Thomas was spotting. It was a lower-weight/hi-rep regimen, so I was pounding it out while he stood back a bit. It was then I heard the syrupy opening chords to "With Arms Wide Open". For some reason--my mood, the timing, whatever--I blurted out a guffaw, losing my grip and nearly going all Stafon Jackson. Luckily, Thomas--the ever-dilligent spotter he is--made the save. Still, it served to intensify my dislike of the already unlikable song.

Thanks to my good buddy Matt for the heads-up on the video.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Tube Amp: October

It struck me that I'm really letting this feature down. You might remember the last edition when I posted the August tube amp three days into September. And here we are, 2/3s of the way through October, and September is still tube ampless.

Therefore, I'm skipping September. Why? Cause fuck September that's why. What has September done to deserve an edition? School starts. Summer ends, but it stays hot. Hurricanes usually batter the South Carolina coast. So sorry, September: No Tube Amp for you.

That said, I give you the October Tube Amp. Ladies and gentlemen, Wilco:



:01 - 90s Wilco on a Ski slope in full regalia? Yes please.

:23 - Jay Bennet's guitar playing/whammy bar usage was always top notch. His playing looks so effortless. He actually taught me that the whammy bar could be used for good, not just overwrought Van Halen vibrato.

:32 - A bunch of pogoing Canadians in ski gear. That is all.

:49 - Tweedy's 90s alt-rock haircut: Timeless.

:55 - Hey John Stirratt, Nikita Krushchev wants his hat back.

1:17 - The one arm wave/white boy slight-knee-bend bounce: Pinnacle of lame.

1:32 - Who the hell is that? Rick Rubin on guitar? Whoever he is, I sure hope something hilarious happens to him before this is all said and done.

1:41 - Man, Bennett always seemed in his element on stage, in the rock guitarist role. I never saw him perform, but I hear Bennett-era Wilco was a thing to behold. I bet his ousting gutted him more than we can ever know.

2:11 - There's that Rubin Impostor again. Nothing hilarious yet. Surely some perfectly timed goof will befall our bearded friend. It must...

2:40 - Our jolly dancer has graduated to the two-armed wave.

2:54 - Wait for it....

2:58 - Wait for it

3:00 - Almost...

3:06 - YES!!! Faux-Rubin goes for the timed stomp, loses his hat, doesn't stick the landing, staggers ungracefully off the side of the stage and backflops into the powder. AND NEVER MISSES A NOTE.

3:40 - Bennett: "Hahaha. You're out of the band."

By the way, the Rubin lookalike? My guess is its Bob Egan, former multinstrumentalist and current member of Blue Rodeo. Until next time -- whenever that may be -- this is the Tube Amp, signing off.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reviews, based on the Followil scale

We don't review albums too often here at HSW, but some higher profile (to us) releases have dropped lately, so I thought a few words were in order. Since numbered and starred ratings are so tired, so I've decided to rate these on the Followil scale. Each album will be assigned a particular emotive blurt, courtesy of Kings of Leon singer Caleb "EH, EH!" Followil:


Cheeh-ya! (Excellent album)


Heeey, oowah. (Satisfactory)


Ooooh no no no no. (Unsatisfactory.)

Off we go...


Girls: Album

West Coast and breezy--it's San Fran's answer to MGMT--Girls has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable album. Christopher Owens' vision here isn't particularly innovative, but it's refreshingly pure and careless. His vocal style owes a lot to a young Elvis Costello--a little crazed, cracking at the edges, and dripping with desperation. Surf rock viewed through a late-oughts indie pop lens, we hear jangly chords showered in reverb and the kind of major key melodic interplay that, somewhere, has Jay Bennett smiling.

Verdict:

Cheeh-ya!

Langhorne Slim: Be Set Free

My first LP exposure to Langhorne Slim, provoked by a few satisfying Pandora showings. Unfortunately, Slim falls victim to some lazy lyricism (Sure sign: I could correctly guess song titles based on which lyric was repeated most) and just generally safe songwriting. It's a stamped-out indie-folk album, easily digested on the first go-round and thus not demanding repeat listens. And it's annoyingly upbeat, which isn't really being fair, but what are ya gonna do. It didn't drive me away, but surely it can't be his best effort. He's got a fine voice--John Popper meets Van Morrison, boisterous and dusty--and it deserves some better material.

Verdict:

Ooooh no no no no!


Flaming Lips: Embryonic


I'm a bit overwhelmed by the sprawl, but the individual tracks are starting to sink in. Double albums are a tough thing to pull off. There are only two I truly adore, those being Physical Graffiti and Being There. The Lips (wisely) condensed the CD version onto one disc, so it'll perhaps resonate quicker than most other double-discers. As for the album, it's a lo-fi synergy of Yoshimi's weirdness and Clouds Taste Metallic's bombast. Steve Drozd deserves special recognition, his drumming is particularly thunderous and lends a lot to the overall sound of Embryonic.

Verdict:

Heeey, oowah.

Monsters of Folk: s/t

In theory, this was a can't miss for me. The Monsters make up about 16 albums worth of my music collection, at least one of which is in my listening rotation at any given time. But, "Monsters of Folk"? Such a hokey moniker led me to believe that they might not be taking the collaboration seriously. But, alas, I can't get the thing out of my CD player. It lacks any great sense of sequencing, but I get the idea that the group was going for the compilation feel of the album their name references (Monsters of Rock). It's never hard to discern who wrote what, be they M. Ward's rambling rags, Conor Oberst's mystic folkery, or Jim James' straight rock/soul turns.

Verdict:

Cheeh-ya!

J. Tillman: Year in the Kingdom

Better known these days as drummer and mid-range harmonizer for the Fleet Foxes, this is actually Tillman's sixth solo release. A collection of sparse, nocturnal folk songs that sound like Beck on Prozac, Tillman's restraint is both a strength and weakness. Very rarely do the songs step into the moonlight and shimmer; more often, they lay low, creeping through the darkness. This isn't to say it's a depressing record. It celebrates the peace and the stillness of night...kinda like the anti-Hold Steady. Recommended for fans of Holopaw, a band similarly conducive to sundown spins.

Verdict:

Heeey, oowah.

Monday, October 19, 2009

On Repeat: Unoriginal Musical Musings Volume 2

Quote: "I used to like Radiohead but now they just push buttons."


Usual Suspect: 30-something, hasn't bought a new album since 1998.

A tired blanket statement that, even if given the benefit of the doubt, applies to maybe one out of seven Radiohead songs and perhaps less. Like the band or not, it's a statement that screams 'lazy listener.' Newsflash: Every band, in some capacity, pushes buttons. To be fair, Radiohead embraces studio technology more than most, but the notion that the group arbitrarily spins every knob within reach is silly. And besides Kid A and about half of Amnesiac, (total of two records let's say,) most of Radiohead's music is no more synthetic than your average band. Yes, enough to turn off the casual listener. And, unfairly, enough to draw undue criticism.


Quote: "I can't get past his [or her] voice."


Usual Suspect:
Anyone and everyone.

This one holds more water than most. I don't think it's necessarily an invalid comment. It really depends how you break it down. The listener might take issue with timbre, inflection, lack of range, etc. For instance, in the realm of pop music there is an emphasis on almost comical exaggeration. Today's "What would yuh-oo duh-oo" country singers, or the "BAYBAY!" pop singers are unabashedly consumed with stressing each syllable to the breaking point. But that's more of a genre problem. All too often, this phrase is a go-to for folks who want to quickly write-off an individual artist. To go deep on the spectrum, Tom Waits is virtually unlistenable if the voice thing was (always) a valid excuse. But he's also a shining example of why it isn't how pretty you sound; it's how you sing it. I would suggest that we all check ourselves when using the voice excuse.


Quote: "Srsly, I have the most random iPod ever!"



Usual Suspect: Type of people who incorrectly consider themselves quirky because they do things everyone else does (i.e. singing in the car, being able to quote Saved By The Bell, and yes, having random songs on their iPod)

Another one from the Overheard at Work file. Some folks are so bewildered by the the staggering variety of music that, against all calculable logic, wound up on their iPod. Surely they're not drawing attention to the songs that they dragged onto there. "Wow, En Vogue followed by Sugarland? That's my iPod for ya. Wait, no way...Kajagoogoo just came on. Remember them? They're on my iPod too." This one sort of parallels the Pandora situation, because your faux-shock or pride is the result of a situation that you architected in some way, and is little more than an praise-seeking mechanism. And really, if you think your music collection is venerable to the point of sharing, it probably isn't. And yes, I recognize the inherint irony in that last statement, considering I write a music blog...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Repeat: Unoriginal Musical Musings Volume 1

Note: This is an open-ended series, provoked by observing Facebook statuses, forum postings, co-worker comments, etc. It's about those statements that are delivered ad nauseam, and as if 9 million people aren't saying the same thing at any given moment. Here are a few to start:

Quote: "My Pandora Is Being Awesome Today!"


Usual Suspect: Overzealous Facebook/Twitter updater, attention whores.

Be it a Facebook status or an office announcement, it's a loaded statement with the unspoken addendum: "Let me give you the list of artists Pandora has played for me, because you'll see how great my taste is." While I'm not about to disparage Pandora, which I've begun to favor over iTunes as a soundtrack for chores/dressing for work/freelance toil, I will say this: OF COURSE it is "being awesome". That's what it's supposed to do. When you click the thumbs-down, does it say "Tough shit, I'm playing it anyway"? No. It says "Sorry, thought you might have liked that song. I won't play it again" or some such faux-personalized apology. It then recalibrates your station so that it doesn't play that song or similar ones. So when you type in "Styx", Journey and Foreigner will probably ensue. And if you type in Styx, chances are that's what you deserve...


Quote: "I know some people don't like John Mayer, but he's a really good guitar player"


Quote: Mayer fans, seeking Mayer validation when confronted by eye-rolling non-Mayer fans.

As a white dude who publicly plays guitar and sings, I am often lazily compared to John Mayer. It has inflated my dislike of the guy's music by about a thousand percent. When I voice my disapproval, the general response is this: "But did you know he's RLY GOOD at guitar??? I mean maybe you dont like his music but the guy plays with BB King and stuff." First of all, yes I knew that. My first exposure to John Mayer came in early 2002, when he performed on the short lived Galifianakis vehicle "Late World With Zach" on VH1. It was unremarkable, but shortly thereafter his wave of hits arrived. Since then, his laughable lyrics and annoying-as-shit voice has been validated (again and again) by his guitarplaying prowess. And yes--just like Jimmy Page, Steve Vai, or Bill who works the 3-to-close shift at Guitar Center, he is a very good guitarist. That in no way absolves his musical sins. Would I accept a rapist because he can draw really well? Nor will I forgive "Your Body is a Wonderland" or "Daughters" because Mayer can shred.

___

More to come in the upcoming days and weeks!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Poll: Your Favorite Radiohead Album

We here at HSW never shy away from Radiohead-themed content. So a poll seemed like yet another facet of our existence they should invade.

Simple enough: What's your favorite album by the boys from Abingdon? Do you crave the Pablo Honey? Do you salute Hail to the Thief? Can't forget about Amnesiac? (I could go on.)

Weigh in to the right.

Friday, October 16, 2009

October 12, 2009: Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird
w/St. Vincent
The Music Farm (Charleston, SC)
October 12, 2009

Quite a run of shows in Charleston of late, like this one and this one, and that doesn't even include a Lucero show last Sunday that, due to a weekend event that required two consecutive 15 hour workdays, I regrettably passed on. But Andrew Bird was a can't miss for me. Not even another lengthy day on the job and an early morning in waiting could keep me from catching Andrew's set at the Music Farm in downtown Charleston, SC.

Opening the night was St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark. The indie darling released a fairly successful record this year, of which I've heard maybe half and was fairly unmoved. But she seems like a viable act, though didn't demand punctuality, as the crowd was fairly thin when I arrived halfway through her set. I found her music to be a little more engaging live, although she as a performer appeared uncomfortable and stiff. Petite, pale, and topped with a mossy thicket of raven curls, Clark appeared reluctant--even disinterested while on stage. She hardly moved, save for a slight upper-body twitch akin to the movement of the second hand of a wristwatch. Prior to her last song--and I may not have heard this correctly--but I could have sworn she said "Andrew Bird is next, and he'll be a lot better than me." Pity grabs are unflattering, always. Let's hope I misheard her.

Bird didn't take long to appear, clad in a ratty suit and looking every bit like a struggling dictionary salesman with his five o'clock shadow and thinning coiffure. and the band set into "Fiery Crash" from 2007's stellar Armchair Apocrypha. The set was heavy on new material, from this years Noble Beast. But he didn't shy away from the last two albums either, playing a handful of material from both Armchair and The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Highlights included the anthemic "Fake Palindromes" and "Tables and Chairs" from Eggs, "Plasticities" and "Cataracts" from Armchair, and "Fits and Dizzy Spells" and "Not a Robot, but a Ghost" from Noble Beast. They also played a Bowl of Fire tune, which was Bird's band from the late 90s. The night's finest moment came during the encore, with St. Vincent joining Bird and crew on stage and performing "Scythian Empire", an Armchair song that starts out as a starlight stroll, and blooms into a full-on meteor shower, textured by swirling galactic lights and Bird's soaring vocals throughout.

It's hard to describe Andrew Bird without it sounding gimmicky. "He's a really, really good whistler. He plucks his violin and loops it and then plays xylophone while he whistles, and he'll loop that and switch to guitar. Yes, his name is Bird and he whistles." Andrew Bird toes the line of gimmickry, albeit in a different way than, say, the Decemberists. His lyrics generally aren't anachronistic, and he ostensibly doesn't adhere to a singular concept in his albums. But he does seem to crave a depth in his music that a simple guitar-bass-drums-vox attack can't provide. And rather than amass an army (or, more fittingly, a flock) of minstrels, the entrepreneurial Bird would rather just do it himself. So we see him juggling his arsenal, flanked by three relatively sedated band mates.

So, yeah, in theory Bird's shtick seems a little pretentious. But in practice, it absolutely works. The songs never get choked or overcomplicated as he moves seamlessly between instruments. And he doesn't sacrifice showmanship for his busy schedule, either. Bird delivers his lyrics--and even his whistles--with a sort of pleading desperation, as if he really wants to get his point across...not so much to the audience, but more to the subject of the song. Lots of hand gestures and dramatic movements. Kinda like this:



At one point, Bird complained of a fever he'd picked up in New Orleans, but I wouldn't have known if he hadn't have said it. I went into this show without lofty expectations. "Singer-songwriter guy has a band, stands at a mic and plays, bounces around a bit, sings the songs and looks cool doing it" kind of sums up what I thought was in store. But Bird is much more than that--he's a classically trained musician and passionate showman to boot, much like Tom Waits. In fact, what with his whistling and ethereal vocals, Andrew Bird is like the angel to Waits' growling devil. Someone, quick, book the tour!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More musical lookalikes...

I caught the Andrew Bird show at the Music Farm here in Charleston last night. While the short, gangly performer whistled and plucked his violin, it struck me that he was the perfect candidate for this feature, for no other reason than his uncanny resemblance to Daily Show correspondent and British roustabout, John Oliver:


Will let you guess who's who here.

Look for a full review of the show sometime soon!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poll Results 3: Favorite Song of the Year

Our third poll reached it's end the other day...thanks for those of you who voted. Let's look at the results:

3 (14%) - "Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear
2 (9%) - "Stillness Is the Move" by the Dirty Projectors
1 (4%) - "You Saved My Life" by Cass McCombs
1 (4%) - "The Wanting Comes in Waves" by the The Decemberists
5 (23%)- "Run Chicken Run!" by the Felice Brothers
8 (38%) - "Bull Black Nova" by Wilco
4 (19%) - "This Tornado Loves You" by Neko Case
5 (23%) - "I and Love and You" by the Avett Brothers

Ladies and gentlemen, Wilco takes a second consecutive poll. It's clear that Jeff Tweedy is stuffing the ballot box. Impressive showings for brother-bands, as the Felices and Avetts tie for the silver medal. But to HSW, you're all winners.

A new poll should be up soon.

September 12, 2009: The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers
w/Slow Runner
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
September 12, 2009

The last time I saw the Avett Brothers, the Stool Sample by the Atlantic known as Myrtle Beach wrought havoc on my travel schedule, and thusly I arrived a handful of songs into the show. This was moderately depressing, especially when I found out I’d missed one of my favorites, “Left on Laura, Left on Lisa”. Rest assured, this time I was firmly planted in my row G seat before even the opener even took stage.

The Avetts have played Charleston before, last in November of 2007 at the much-smaller Music Farm. It took them almost two years to make it back down to the Holy City, and not a minute too late. At one point, Seth said “It’s been way too long since we’ve been here, way too long.” Damn right! We’re not too far, are we guys?

The Avett Brothers machine has been in full operation since this summer, touring heavily in an effort to push their much-hyped (and newly released) LP, I and Love and You. The album shows an overriding sense of sincerity and maturity that—for better or for worse—most of their previous efforts lack. Diehards are deriding the boys for softening up, new fans are jumping on the bandwagon. I’ve even read a few forum comments from folks who’d formerly dismissed the band that have come to embrace the new album. The band seems prepared for this mixed reaction. “The better you get at it, the more you mature,” bassist Bob Crawford recently told Augusta’s Metro Spirit. “The more you mature, the more you’re going to rein things in and you’re going to be more focused on what you’re doing. You can only hide behind the raw energy for so long.”

But even a disenchanted diehard would still sooner miss the birth of his first child than skip an Avetts show. Not surprisingly, the Avetts return netted a pretty impressive audience. No sell-out, but at least 4/5 of the way filling a 2,500 person theater is nothing to sneeze at.

The opening act was local rockers “Slow Runner”—a fitting name for the band, actually, considering their mix of sleep-inducing downers and high-powered uppers. Reception was warm, but most were bristling for the Avetts, hoping the set would wrap up, and sighing a bit when each new song started.

The curtain was down when the band started into “Shame”. Halfway through the first verse, the band was revealed to the roaring masses. Scott sported what appeared to be a ten-gallon Stetson, and Seth looked slightly preppy and dry-cleaned, his keychain still dangling from his beltloop as the band played. Bob and cellist Joe Kwon leaned back to back, dipping low as possible without jeopardizing their no-doubt pricey string instruments.

The crowd was frenzied three songs in, when the band launched into standout track "Laundry Room" from the new album. It's a well-paced ballad, similar in some ways to "Weight of Lies" from Emotionalism, and featuring high-paced, signature Avetts coda. During the last measure, I noticed Scott Avett flail his strumming hand backwards, and then shake it frantically, as if it had caught fire. Scott announced his brother would be playing a tune alone--not uncommon--and the rest of the band left.

Seth played the lengthy "Ballad of Love and Hate" from Emotionalism, sniffling a bit throughout, which led me to believe he was nursing a cold. After the song, a roadie jogged out and whispered something to Seth, who nodded and set into his other solo go-to, "My Last Song For Jenny" from A Carolina Jubilee. Suffice to say, the audience was a unnerved. I heard curious murmurs throughout the number. The crowd cautiously cheered when Scott (sans banjo) and the others reappeared, and set into a decidedly bare version of "Salina". Scott's thumb was heavily bandaged, and I assumed head jabbed it on a string. I'd learn that a snapped banjo string dug an inch deep into Scott's thumb. But it was clear at the time that Scott was in pain, and not thrilled to be there without his axe. Scott, looking rather dejected, departed a second time and the remaining three played Seth-fronted "Belladonna", from the Second Gleam EP.

The atmosphere at this point was shaky. An Avetts show without a banjo, or worse yet, without Scott would be but a shell of the real thing. Poor Seth was doing his best to keep the audience engaged, but there was palpable unrest amongst the masses.

Belladonna finished, and Scott came back. With his banjo. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Scottie Avett is back!" said a visibly relieved Seth. The place went nuts, and the show went on as planned. Aside from the gauze-wrapped thumb, you wouldn't have known Scott was suffering. He blazed through banjo-heavy, up-tempo numbers like "I Killed Sally's Lover" and show closer "Talk on Indolence."

Song of the night honors goes to the Four Thieves Gone segue from "Distraction #74" right into "Left on Laura, Left on Lisa". The three-song encore featured two I&L&Y songs, the title track and quirky "Kick Drum Heart", and--giving in to the hollers and burbling anticipation felt by all--closed with the aforementioned "Talk On Indolence".

It was a big show. Lots of people, plaid shirts and jeans and boots and bandana-wrapped foreheads (Scott-mimickers) and good, clean fun. It wasn't messy, sweaty, or particularly raccous. Gone are the days of hot and sweaty barroom gigs and stage antics that wouldn't translate on a larger stage. The Avetts aren't stupid...they know that with this new territory, that requires them to abandon some of the old ways and grow into the new. But it's a change I imagine they're ready for, and they've thus far proved they're capable of. Here's to continued success for the boys from Concord, NC.

A few pics, nabbed in low-lit and highly unsteady conditions:





Other North Charleston Performing Arts Center Reviews:

Ryan Adams
Old Crow Medicine Show w/Felice Brothers
Wilco w/Bon Iver