Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Scott and Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers do a lot of things well in making their band's brand of bluegrass music, but they do one of them even better than the others. It's not that they are easily one of the most engaging and dynamic live acts in the country, turning predominantly string-based, love ballads and stories into barn-burning stomps that are unlikely candidates for being some of the most percussive songs you'll ever hear. Your body beats when they play, the heart feels the floor and the skin gets the hair shaken clean off of it. What they do so well has to do with what the two dapper and charming men of rural North Carolina care about and how they choose their reflections. Last week, I recall reading a song description refer to the inspiration for a tune coming from hearing such phony pawning of emotions that should never be taken as light and malleable, as things to be toyed with. It was such an unsettling experience to hear love and relative feelings being traded and offered so disingenuously, as if they were just a bag of dry goods or printed condolence or celebratory greeting cards. Many people are so quick to pass off the next closest thing to concern, joy or sorrow that they can find without ever investing in it. The two brothers know why they were put here and what they want to put their greatest efforts into before they get wiped away by old age and time. There is nothing fabricated or staged in the music that they and band members Bob Crawford (upright bass) and Joe Kwon (cello) make, just an extension of the gracious and tender feelings that really must rest in them. They are humble family men who can make grown men cry with a small, almost insignificant use of the word "daughter" in the song "Murder In The City," off "The Second Gleam," where Scott Avett now sings live about his recent first-born (a slight change from the recorded version, which makes all of the difference in the world in altering the mood) noting, "Make sure my daughter knows I loved her, make sure my mother knows the same/Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name." It's almost all you need to know about the Avett Brothers before you just immerse yourself in their material, rich in that kind of heritage and in the belief that there's real love out there, unbreakable love and it only hurts when the unthinkable is happening, when it is breaking. They do adore that idea of unbreakable love - like love of the family - and it's moving. It seems to move them just as much as the songs - so alive and present and stunning - appear to be affecting them every time they play them, as if a new set of thoughts is there to join the others, adding to emotion. The emotions topple each other, bear hug them and give them a hearty slap on the back. The Avetts allow this to happen, encourage it even with eyes and an ear to the matters that they'll never tire of, finding themselves regularly going into them with such passionate blindness and fury that they rejuvenate the fires that originally brought them to the fore. It might have been said best by the band's bus driver, there in Austin with them for the first time, having never heard them play before. He sat in Big Orange along with an enraptured, small gathering at 10 o'clock in the morning. The boys were dressed in their Sunday best on this Friday morning and they unleashed, which with an even more minimal microphone set-up than we usually use, comes across. At the end of the set, the old man who was going to be behind the wheel for the long haul home said, "Boys, that gave me God bumps." Scott told him thank you and said that he should expect there to be a lot more of that.