Those Rascally Avett Brothers
It’s taken some time, but I think I finally found a referent for the Avett Brothers, at least for the live energy and spirit. It’s The Old 97s.
At Tucson’s Rialto Theatre last night the whole room was charged in that early Old 97s, live way — lots of irrepressible stomping, hollering, bouncing and jumping around, onstage and off. The Avetts present like a full-on cardio-aerobic workout as a comedy troupe might lead it in the parking lot of your favorite bar at closing time.
And then there’s that delightful, smart-alecky quality that used to fly around the Old 97s like Murry Hammond’s hair. The Avetts have elevated that attitude to high art, and it permeates their live performance.
Consider the example that, in the midst of otherwise articulate songs, they might spring on you an entire lyric of hokey doggerel, plausible, but clearly not intended to be taken seriously. Then there are the unexpected musical fillips like the complex, incidental and fleeting bass break in “Paranoia in B Flat”, and the warp-speed-up in “Nothing Short of Thankful” that’s played at a pace that would leave mere mortals’ fingers bloody. It’s a show-stopping twist when they harmonize percussion, off-string, on their instruments, beating a poly rhythmic skeleton under a four-part harmony, a-capella chorus, their cellist cantilevering his instrument between his chin and shoulder.
Photo by Mark A. Martinez
All that virtuosic wit makes you wonder: Are they serious about the loping, extravagantly alt.country sound of “November Blue” and “Salvation”, or are they mocking it? And what of that extended, achingly poignant outtro on “Salina”? Are they just poking all the buttons known to music theory to drown us in what may be the most moving evocation of homesickness ever orchestrated in symphonic rock?
An unmistakable smirk lurks in all that, one that easily would’ve earned them a detention or three in middle school, if the teacher didn’t just stone give them a pass because they could’ve been straight A students if they’d only “apply themselves”. And, anyway, she’d have to consider the boatloads of charm, and so much talent they just couldn’t contain it.
They are such guys, though. Even in serious singer-songwriter territory, tenderly evoking family bonds or overwhelming love, as in “The Greatest Sum”, their gaze is a complete stranger to their shoes. Who says you need to tap into your inner female to go sensitive? The Avetts show us genuine sensitivity that’s apparently thoroughly integrated into the gadget-geek, road loving, roughhousing guy psyche.
The Rialto set roamed through the depth of the Avetts’ catalog, but also gave the audience a glimpse of new material, including the title track, from their new, Rick Rubin-produced I and Love and You, due for late July or early August, 2009 release. Another record, another tour. And I’m guessing they really will be homesick.