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The Avett Brothers, The Garage, London, March 16th 2010

March 17, 2010

The Avett Brothers: spot the Neil Young collectable...

North Carolina boys the Avett Brothers had been floating around in my peripheral vision for a while. I got the video podcast they did with NPR last June as well as their dynamic set at the Newport Folk Festival last August. I liked what I heard but, apart from grabbing a copy of their 2006 CD Four Thieves Gone, I hadn’t pursued them further.

Rustie friends of mine in the States are big fans, which is recommendation enough for me. Neil Young nuts they may be, but Rusties really do know their music. So when a UK tour was announced, I was keen to catch them. Their shows in the States have a reputation for being highly participatory in a revivalist kind of way. This, of course, doesn’t usually happen in London, where most gig-goers affect boredom and apathy, but the majority of the audience at this sold-out show at The Garage were American. And they tend to be more serious about having fun. True to form, The Suit looked dubious as dozens of folks bounced up and down, singing along to the songs. We’re from Birmingham, and Brummies don’t do enjoyment very well – for us, every silver lining has a bloody great thundercloud attached…. I’m not sure he really liked the band, but I was having fun.

So what about the music? Well, genres are slippery things and few bands are as difficult to categorise as the Avett Brothers. They’ve been variously described as hardcore roots americana, folk, country-punk, grungegrass and cowpunk – which shows how annoying genres are. Just dip into their music and see whether it’s for you.

Judging from online comments, many of their fans were apprehensive about their latest album, I And Love And You, being produced by the esteemed Rick Rubin. Sure enough, the sound is lusher than before, but perhaps a certain something has been lost in the process. Personally, I prefer their older, rawer stuff. Softer ballads seem to be to the fore these days, at the expense of the barnstorming banjo-driven country punk numbers. We still get these – Kick Drum Heart is a good example – but most of the set consists of quieter songs.

It struck me half way through the show how professional they are. I usually use that term pejoratively, but in this case I use it admiringly. I’m not after tedious polish, but after years of watching live music, I’m convinced that, by and large, American bands have a different attitude about putting on a show than many of their British counterparts, for whom the phrase ‘show’ sounds like artifice and insufficiently hip. My answer is that if you’re on a stage and people have paid their hard-earned cash to hear you, you’d better put on some sort of show or they’ll want their money back.

The Avett Brothers’ songwriting is as strong as their stagecraft, with great numbers like Murder In The City, The Ballad Of Love And Hate (played and sung brilliantly by guitar and vocal brother Seth), January Wedding and more. The evening was topped off by a singalong I And Love And You, which sent the crowd home happy…. at least, those who weren’t born in Birmingham.
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Dumbed down and numbed by time and age.
Your dreams that catch the world the cage.
The highway sets the traveler’s stage.
All exits look the same.
Three words that became hard to say.
I and Love and You.
I and Love and You.
I and Love and You

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jill Seagraves permalink
    March 17, 2010 10:34 pm

    I LOVE BRAND NEW GUY, his views are so along the same lines as mine…..and I love the words he chooses to use!
    And he makes me laugh every day, even if it’s only on line!

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