Live Review: The Avett Brothers @ Georgia Theatre, 10/3/08
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the sheer volume of fellows clad in dress slacks, long-sleeved button-down shirts, suit vests, sometimes a tie but always the longish, stringy hair and ample beards was so conspicuous that some ulterior scheme must have been at work. Before the show, down the street at Little Italy, one of those fellows even had me fooled-- but only for a second, and I swear it was the oil and vinegar on my giant turkey sub and not star-struck awe that had me choking when he walked through the door.
But when the brothers themselves-- both genetic (Seth and Scott) and honorary (upright bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon)-- finally took the stage, after the smoldering Southern grit of opener Jessica Lea Mayfield, the feeble imitations of those would-be doppelgangers seemed lamer than ever. This was the last of two nearly-sold-out, back-to-back nights at the Georgia Theatre, but there were to be no sloppy seconds for us. Dress slacks and beards or not, I dare you to show me any band today that can summon and emit a more affecting display of sheer heart and raw, musical power than the Avett Brothers live.
By the end of the first song, Seth had already snapped at least one guitar string; Scott's banjo was a shredded mess by the second, and the third found Seth struggling to free himself from the burden of his silken, paisley albatross of a necktie. Midway through the set-- which included old favorites “Talk on Indolence,” “Salina,” and “Pretty Girl from Annapolis,” plus several new ones-- I found myself wondering how I'd missed someone popping onstage and dumping a bucket of water on Scott, only to realize, no, he was just very suddenly and fully drenched in his own sweat. Crawford, as always, proved solid as a rock in the midst of a hair-flinging, monitor-scaling, kick drum-crushing tempest, and Kwon provided a steady stream of rich flourishes and un-mic'd but tireless vocal contributions.
The four or five new songs performed throughout the night were received warmly but warily, several featuring a reformulation of the standard Avett tableau. Seth settled in on keyboards and Scott played a cracked Levon Helm behind the drums for the bouncy, stuttering “Heart Like a Kick Drum” and “Tin Man,” leaving Crawford and Kwon on string duty. One whistle-tinged tune with a refrain of “more of, more of, more of, more of you” has since melded with the Beatles' “I Will” in my mind, though whether this is in any way reflective of the actual song may have to wait til the release of the band's still-in-progress, Rick Rubin-produced fourth LP.
When the brothers took the stage alone for a heart-gripping rendition “Murder in the City,” from July's Second Gleam EP, a sizable bit of the audience took the three minute break in sonic onslaught to catch up on conversations waylaid by the previous hour of music. Still, “At the Beach” and “In the Curve” were obvious crowd favorites (though the amount of hootin' and hollerin' during the latter suggested an uncomfortable level of drunk driving complicity among certain Athenians in the crowd) and Thursday night's closer of “Go To Sleep” lingered, with scattered fans breaking into hopeful choruses of “La la, la la la la” during lulls between songs. The Friday crowd instead got “Will You Return” with an encore of “Die Die Die,” already one of musical history's more jubilant songs about resigning oneself to the mysteries of life yet lived, but turned downright danceable by Scott's new drumwork.
If these are the Avett Brothers of the future, then count me in. Hirsute, opportunistic impostors and all.