Friday, October 2, 2009

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

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