Monday, August 04, 2008

The Avett Brothers | Higher Ground | Jul 29

Some thoughts and photos from The Avett Brothers at Higher Ground:

A few years ago, I reviewed Kris Gruen's debut album, Lullaby School, for 7D and enjoyed it. So, I was happy to see him opening for The Avett Brothers. In fact, it was probably the factor that tipped me towards going since I was sort of middling towards The Avetts.

Gruen played for about a half hour and showcased all new material (as far as I could tell) which would make sense since he's been working on a new album. You can hear some demos from his recording session on his myspace site; I'm digging "Memoir". At the show, Gruen had everything stripped down to just him, an acoustic guitar and a bass drum and the songs sounded good in their minimalist versions.

The bass drum was a great idea. Typically, playing just an acoustic guitar as an opener is a recipe for lots of crowd chatter. However, with Gruen stomping on that bass drum pedal, the chatter was completely drowned out but his guitar and vocals still came through clearly. More acoustic performers should try that move.

Prior to the show, my knowledge of The Avett Brothers was limited to just their 2007 album Emotionalism. The album is pretty but their mellowgrass sound never completely sucked me in. Just a bit too subdued. So, I went into the show expecting to hear quiet but beautiful folk songs. However, in place of that, I caught a rollicking hillbilly stompdown.

From the moment they hit the stage, their energy was evident. They seemed a lot closer to the frantic dynamo of Old Crow Medicine Show than I had previously appreciated. In fact, at one point, I noticed that sweat was pouring off the elbow of Scott Avett; not an occasional drip but a constant drip-drip-drip. At first I thought there was a leak in the roof but then I realized that the guy was just showing the effects of not stopping for an hour.

The other thing I picked up on about them was how much they are influenced by The Beatles. It comes through much more in their live show than recordings but they could forge a whole new genre of Beatlesgrass. I know...that's terrible...but it'd be fitting.

About 3/4 of the way through the show, Seth Avett was left alone on stage to perform "The Ballad of Love and Hate". While I was grabbed by the energy of the show, I'd say Seth's performance of that song was my favorite of the night. Beautiful. In fact, when it was done, someone in the crowd yelled, "That was fucking amazing!"

Apparently, they sold-out a 7,000 seat venue in NC the weekend before the show at Higher Ground. So, it must have been difficult for them to be excited to play in front of 400 people a few nights later. However, if you didn't know about the NC show, you never would have thought it was an issue. They seemed pleased to be there and I can't imagine them putting out more energy for a show than they did on Tuesday. Kudos to their professionalism.

One note about the crowd, there was a couple in front of me (about ten feet back from the stage) that brought their two-year-old to the show. Don't do that. It's just stupid. The kid doesn't want to be there. It's bad for the kids hearing. The people around you who have to deal with a squirming kid don't want the kid there. You'd enjoy the show more if the kid was at home. Just cough up the money for a babysitter and leave the kid at home.

I still don't consider myself to be a big fan of The Avett Bros. but, as a half-hearted fan, I'd see them again. Quite simply, they put on a good show.

Note: jds was at the show with me and has some differing opinions but I'll let him express them rather than put words in his mouth.

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