Review: The Avett Brothers bring tar heel magic to Vancouver
Published Friday, October 18, 2013 9:48AM PDT
The Avett Brothers perform at The Orpheum on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival in Vancouver, B.C. (Anil Sharma/CTV)
Not every song The Avett Brothers played at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre last night dripped with timeless musical magic. But there were plenty that did.
And despite a box office meltdown that left many ticketholders still standing outside as the band took the stage, the joyful buzz flooding the streets at the show’s end suggested that those with the patience to wait it out had seen something very special indeed.
Unlike their fellow folk revival titans who’ve played Vancouver this summer (those would be The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons) The Avett Brothers haven’t had a world-conquering crossover hit just yet, sparing the crowd from enduring another chilly evening in a field. Intimacy, when it comes to any music involving an acoustic guitar and a banjo, is always a good thing.
It’s not too far a stretch to suggest that The Avetts are the best of the new holy acoustic triumvirate either, mining their North Carolina heritage to produce music rich in the sounds and themes of bluegrass and country, yet still taking cues from the best rock bands of the past 30 years. Most importantly, unlike their peers, any Coldplay influence is negligible.
“Here’s one from ‘I and Love and You’,” smiled co-front man Seth Avett, strapping on a noisy electric guitar and rattling through “Slight Figure of Speech,” joining his banjo-wielding brother Scott in rapping the song’s bridge before pounding his instrument and leaping onto the drum riser with more than a hint of the Superchunk stagecraft all Carolina kids grew up with. “Apart From Me,” directly after, was a radical change of style, the brothers mining their country roots to deliver a simple song of hope and sadness.
The first of many moments approaching genius came when Scott wandered to the front of the stage alone, illuminated by a single spotlight, for a solo rendition of “Murder in the City.” Full of Doc Watson-y goodness, the song’s simple guitar lines and lyrical warmth were accompanied only by whoops and “yeeeeaaah”s from the crowd. Rejoined by his brother, bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon huddled around a lone mic for “Pretty Girl From Annapolis,” all but Seth stepped away midway through, leaving him to sing a couple of verses from Donovan’s “Catch The Wind” – a stunning moment delivered in rightfully reverential silence.
“Let’s shake it up!” he declared three songs later, going electric once again for a hard-rockin’ “Kick Drum Heart,” Scott leaping around the stage and attempting the near impossible; getting the balcony at a Vancouver theatre concert on its feet.
“Laundry Room” came soon after, exploding into life and generating a clap-along from the crowd that kept going once the song was done.
“Let’s speed it up,” suggested Seth, taking the accelerated applause straight into thrash bluegrass (possibly a fabricated genre) banger “I Killed Sally’s Lover.” The inevitable big finish, “Head Full of Doubt” and “I and Love and You” were suitably epic, the crowd choir finishing the latter conducted from the front of the stage by Scott.
Authenticity in music is a complex concept. For The Avett Brothers authenticity is about staying true to the music they love, rather than some Luddite fear of modernity. Embracing the past while grabbing the best of the present, at their peak there’s something essentially human about their music. Its themes are universal without ever appearing generic. Its sounds and melodies harking back to a mythical campfire we wish we’d sat around as children.
“Don’t ever go home,” shouted a voice from the crowd during the encore.
Seth Avett paused and smiled. “We are home.”