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The Avetts/Jessica Lea Mayfield

There seems to be much misinformation swirling about concerning Charlotte, North Carolina’s Avett Brothers and what they do. The buzz is potentially crippling yet the band’s two leaders: Seth and older brother Scott, joined at the hip to bassist Bob Crawford and oft augmented by cellist, Joe Kwon with the occasional drummer, surmount the scuttlebutt based solely on the calibre of their live show. Their latest (8th,, counting 2 EPs ) album, I And Love And You, is a minor masterpiece on its own merits (despite the fact that Rick Rubin produced – with all the critical hubbub inherent in that territory).  Yet the Avett’s present-day momentum stems from a grass roots success story – underlining that they’ve earned their good press.
Originally members of a rock band, Nemo, brothers Seth and Scott would moonlight on off-nights in bluegrass jams – having gained exposure to the great Doc Watson, seeing the light and translating it on an acoustic front. Eventually, Nemo crashed and burned and the two brothers focused on the more accessible sounds of acoustic instruments and their ability to showcase their original songs, recording their first disc as The Avett Brothers in ’02. They appeared to feed off a newfound, fresh and honest approach to songwriting and performing an ever-burgeoning collection of original songs.

The fan frenzy that followed them spurred them ever forward. Hooking up with bassist Crawford helped to focus their sound and the resulting intensity of an Avett Brothers performance soon grew legendary. Yet, despite the appearance of Scott’s banjo, their music is far from traditional – by any stretch. Simple songs from the heart appear to be their stock and trade, coupled with a depth of their musicianship which embraces folk, pop, rock, bluegrass – but played through a punkish blender. The entire band turns themselves inside out in performance, their party faithful – playing back lyric after lyric – clearly as excited to be sharing the music and what it stands for as the band is to serve it up, sweat-drenched and fever-pitched.

On this night, friend Jessica Lea Mayfield (and brother, David) opened the show with a 4-piece plying country fare you might find on a David Lynch soundtrack. Slightly dirge-like, atmospheric soundscapes sculpted behind Mayfield’s simple guitar strumming and almost eerie, sleepy drawl eventually won over an initially confused crowd – especially as Scott joined Jessica for a more spirited duet, to roars from the audience.

Taking the stage as a 4-piece, the Averys, Crawford, Kwon (and a come-and-go drummer) mounted the stage to a packed house set to broil – visiting new songs and old with an Herculean energy level recalling Hanna-Barbera’s Hair Bears at their hairiest. Both Averys – continually leap-frogging around on acoustic guitar, piano, banjo, various percussion instruments and back and trading vocal leads on a dizzying scale covered off a Beatles-like “Die Die Die”, Emotionalism’s “I Would Be Sad”, “Kick Drum Heart” from the latest release and, over the course of the evening, a generous sampling of some 23 songs. And still the crowd wanted more.

Like kids cutting loose in a music room with no parents in sight, Scott and Seth led the band – and the audience – through their slightly offbeat, intensely personal collection of songs – songs that resonate deeply in their absolute honesty with a widely varied audience. Their musical references are impossible to peg, as influenced as they are by – obviously – everything they’ve ever heard. The Avett’s perspective on their approach revolves entirely around their songs – which they consider as ‘living things’, nurtured through constant ‘nourishment’ in performance. It’s what drives them forward and the fact that their fan base can’t get enough – turning each energetic engagement into a full-fledged, stompfest-singalong – keeps them focused.

Highlights? Too many. Their cover of Roger Miller’s “Where have all the average people gone” hit many a nerve as did their own “When I drink”, “And it spread” and the infectious title track from their latest opus – “I and Love and You”, which drew the loudest audience participation. The fact that the band had the strength to return for a still-frenzied 2-song encore defied logic. Not that anyone had any trouble with that. This is a new hybrid of music that deserves universal attention. Given a little time, the Avetts will eventually find you. And we’ll all be the richer for their efforts.

– Eric Thom

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