THEM AND LOVE AND US: The Avett Brothers

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Onstage last week in Tennessee, the Tarheel twangers ‘n’ thumpers, freshly-shorn and basking in the audience’s encouragement, demonstrated why they are the heirs to the contemporary Americana throne—if not the already-crowned kings.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Although they retain their down home, good ol’ boys persona, the Avett Brothers have advanced head first into the major leagues over the last couple of years. Their albums are eagerly anticipated, they can claim a big name producer in Rick Rubin, a major label record deal with Republic Records (yet another live album arrives in stores next week), an expanded front line from three to five, bragging rights due to selling out Madison Square Garden in a matter of minutes, Grammy nods, and even have a celebrity scandal that landed them on the cover of the tabloids, that being Seth Avett’s affair with actress Jennifer Carpenter. Still, none of that notoriety would matter at all were it not for the fact that the Avetts put on one of the most energized and effusive shows imaginable, a none stop whirlwind of frenetic choreography and spontaneous free-for-all activity that keeps their audiences on their feet from the first notes to the last and shouting their approval and encouragement every step of the way.

That was certainly the case this past Friday night at Knoxville’s stately Tennessee Theater, and the mutual admiration shared between band and fans was all too apparent. Looking cleanly scrubbed after shedding their hairy manes, Seth, Scott, bassist Bob Crawford, Cellist Joe Kwon, fiddle player Tania Elizabeth, keyboardist Paul DeFiglia and drummer Mike Marsh took instant command of the proceedings from the first notes on. The initial number, a rousing instrumental meant to get the party started, ended with the musicians forming a kazoo chorus that amped the energy up at the outset. From that point on, the stage became a kinetic flurry of activity with each player seemingly self-propelled and individually enthused. At one point, Scott, sporting a beard and suspenders in typical good old boy regalia, actually did an entire workout routine, starting with jumping jacks and proceeding into push-ups, sit-ups and bicycle pumps. Clearly, the boy’s in good shape, an undiminished flurry of exhilaration rivalled only by the others that share the stage with him.

It’s also clear by now that the band’s newest recruits have been fully integrated into the fray. DeFiglia doubled on bass on more than one occasion, allowing Crawford to pick up his fiddle and join in some hillbilly hoedowns. Kwon, always a whirlwind of activity, dueted with Elizabeth to give the band its own mini string section. Marsh figured into the frenzy as well, ably propelling the band while hammering his drum kit with a flourish.

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As far as the songs were concerned, the group covered some wide terrain, veering from familiar favorites from their past catalog (“Paranoia in B Flat Minor,” “Down with the Shine,” “Kick Drum Heart”), to tunes befitting their North Carolina pedigree (“Floppy Eared Mule,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me”), some old time gospel (“In the Garden”), and a pair of songs slated for a pair of forthcoming albums, one live and one studio (“Satan Pulls the Strings” and “Divorce Separation Blues”). The latter number was especially telling given Seth’s extramarital exploits and he himself conceded the fact that it underscored what was inevitably an expensive proposition. Not surprisingly, those comments garnered a knowing chuckle from the crowd.

Their formal set completed, the group left the stage only to return a few minutes later for their extended encore. Seth mocked the fact that they might deign to return, suggesting it was no secret that they were far from finished. Scott’s solo read of “Murder in the City” was much anticipated and indeed, one of the concert’s emotional highlights, but the omission of the equally stirring “I And Love And You” amounted to the evening’s only real disappointment. Still, the Avetts’ ability to transform such sad, sweet songs into homespun homilies of anthemic proportion always dazzles devotees, which this audience was definitely comprised of entirely.

A folk/bluegrass/indie rock conglomerate boasting exceptional enthusiasm, the Avetts were, in a word, absolutely awesome.

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Top photo from the Avetts’ Facebook page; middle by Alisa Beth Cherry; lower, official band promo shot.

4 thoughts on “THEM AND LOVE AND US: The Avett Brothers

  1. SethAvett

    Calling it an “affair” when it was never confirmed as one is sort of shoddy journalism. Never mind the fact that Jennifer Carpenter and Seth’s ex are civil. Just call it a divorce and don’t spread the tabloid crap in your otherwise decent review.

    1. Fred Mills Post author

      Lee Zimmerman responds:

      Let me begin by saying that I’ve been a huge fan of the Avett Brothers since first seeing them at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival well over a decade ago. I believe my admiration — make that LOVE — for the band — is affirmed but the many, many positive reviews I’ve written on their various releases since then and the numerous concerts I’ve attended. This review is, in my opinion, a glowing one -and deservedly so. There are few bands that can come close to matching the Avett Brothers in terms of sheer energy and exhilaration. They are a marvel on stage and quite worthy of the widespread adoration they’ve received.

      Let me respond to Seth’s comment by saying that I was not passing judgment – if anything, I was pointing out how the media – and the tabloids in particular – tend to take their shots when a celebrity or an artist or a performer hits the big time — and all those other comments — about selling out Madison Square Garden, solidifying their stage presence etc. — were meant to illustrate the fact that indeed, the Avetts are now a major act – again, deservedly so. Yes, I used the word ‘affair’ but I certainly did not characterize it one way or another – I did not say it was good, bad or indifferent – that is not my place to do so, and it certainly would not be appropriate in this context. It was merely a somewhat lighthearted comment on just how big they’ve become, that they are now fodder for the tabloids. It was social commentary at worst, and in fact, a remark that I think is supportive of the band because it points out how silly these things can be when picked up by the tabloids.

      In fact, as I mentioned in the review, Seth himself made light of the situation that resulted in his song Divorce Separation Blues… a terrific tune I might add.

      I pride myself on avoiding negativity. I don’t believing in attacking artists – in truth, I admire and respect them too much to criticize without due cause. I am so sorry that Seth took offense at this, especially given the fact that the review was overwhelming positive. I will always be a fan of the Avett Brothers and I will always support their work accordingly, now and in the future

  2. ImAlsoSethAvett

    Lee,

    I’m saddened to see you felt the need to justify your comments to an anonymous person claiming to be Seth Avett. The author of that comment referred to Seth in third person and only commented to rile you up. Like yourself, I’ve been a fan of the band for many years and I’ve never seen an instance of them commenting a show review, be it positive or negative. Nothing about this is what I would call “shoddy journalism”. You took information that many people can see clear as day and chose not to sugarcoat the situation. Of course neither of them would publicly confirm an affair. Talk about bad PR!

    Thanks for reporting on the show without disregarding the personal connections many, many fans saw. It’s refreshing to see a truly honest show review.

    -AlsoSethAvett

    1. Fred Mills Post author

      Dear ASA – Red-facedly, I think you may be right, and we honestly didn’t consider someone would pretend to be one of the Avetts responding. To me, that suggests if the person is actually a fan, he’s doing the band more of a disservice than support. (A Google search on his email – lknguy1979@yahoo.com – does make it appear he is from Statesville, NC, and also a previous habitue of both occasionally sleazy singles sites, so go figure. Maybe he’s just a troll, stirring shit up.)

      But thanks for your support of Lee and his review, and I agree with what you said – Lee had the best intentions, and I think he expressed them eloquently, both in the original review and in his subsequent comment.

      Oh, and by the way: Avetts rule.
      -Fred Mills, Blurt Editor

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