The Avett Brothers | 09.29.12

avett sqThe band filled the space between us with their push/pull of buoyant, frenetic numbers balanced with heavy, juicy-sweet ballads.

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

The ornate beauty of The Fabulous Fox made a gorgeous backdrop for the Avett Brothers, and if I had to see them for the first time in a larger size venue, I am glad it was there. I was fairly far back in Orchestra Y, but within just a few songs, the band had closed that gap and filled the space between us with their push/pull of buoyant, frenetic numbers balanced with heavy, juicy-sweet ballads. I am certain that they understand fully that it’s a lot of space to fill and a tall task to make their show feel as intimate as if they were playing at a bar. At one point, Seth joked, “We should all just meet up at Off Broadway after this.”

I’ve read that their set lists are ever changing, and even they sometimes don’t choose what they’ll be playing until the night of the show. Hot damn, did they ever craft a doozy for us in St. Louis. I can’t see how any fan could be disappointed. Well, okay, I say that and realize that, for me, if they’d maybe added in “Ballad of Love and Hate” it could have transcended into absolute nirvana. However I was over the moon with the inclusion of “If It’s the Beaches,” as it is my tippy-top favorite of theirs. I am sure every fan could think of another song and another song and then one more they’d have loved to hear, as well, but seriously, with this set list, it would’ve been like the third cherry on top.

It was the center portion of the night’s performance that truly sparkled and shone. It really kicked into high gear with the song “Distraction #74,” which Seth explained was “about making the same mistake over and over and over.” It’s a solid example of their ability to blend bluegrass, punk, and even Vaudevillian qualities into just one song. The Avetts are just so much stinkin’ fun to watch, especially when they volley back and forth like a high speed game of badminton. After that was the immensely popular “January Wedding,” which became a big sing-along. Then came “Paranoia,” which became a big hop-up-and-down-along. These guys truly understand what their audience desires. As I said before the show started, I was ready for them to rock my face off, break my heart a little, and then build me back up again. They did not disappoint.

There were some points in the night where being in a seated venue felt too constricted. Obviously, everyone was standing from the get-go, but at points, like at the end of “Laundry Room,” all anybody wanted to do was have a knee-slappin’, hand clappin’, foot stompin’ hoe-down in the aisles. Could somebody please get to work on inventing retractable seating?

I think one of the standout songs of the evening was when the stage went black with just a single light beaming down on the two brothers as they sang alone to “Murder in the City.” If you were there and did not have goosebumps at that moment, then I question your humanity. A little later they had another one of those moments with Scott at the piano for “Perfect Space,” a song that I think epitomizes why it’s so important to see this band in concert. It all lives in their phrasing. I mean, “Perfect Space” is a touching, lovely song just to hear on the album, but hearing it, and so many other songs of theirs, performed live takes them to a whole other level.

Their strength as performers lies in their masterful phrasing. The Avetts are storytellers—or, better yet, storycrafters. I’m not about to get into one of those tiresome “which brother” conversations, but I do have to say that, for me, Scott’s phrasing is especially impactful. Case in point, the tender and achingly lovely “Hand Me Down Tune,” where he makes the most interesting vocal choices, and at moments takes on the exact same tone as Joe Kwon’s cello that accompanies him, so it is as if he has merged with the instrument itself. That song has frayed edges. You can’t see them with your eyes; he paints them with his voice.

The backdrop for all of these stories was a great fit. Obviously, The Fox is a feather in the cap of our city, but I am also speaking about the scenery behind the band. At the start, it was a large panel of orange-red rays, and as they started into “Live and Die” off their new LP, The Carpenter, the rays lifted to reveal a panel of abstracted roses on a bed of blue waves or clouds. Depending on the lighting of the moment and in concert with the song of the moment, sometimes it looked soft and faded, and at other times the lines stood out sharply, the colors vibrant.

I love it when musical artists understand how the visual walks so beautifully, hand in hand, with the aural. While the backdrop I just mentioned was a bright and lovely partner to most of their set, there were moments when the best accompaniment visually was just negative space with a spotlight on the performers.

For their encore, the whole band gathered in a tight circle—more of a heart, really, because of how they were spaced height-wise, and where the light fell upon them against the contrast of a pitch black stage. It reminded me of a great Baroque painting: The interplay of light and shadow, the drama of the moment, the focus on just the pure fellowship and spirituality of playing music together. It was simple and so very lovely. | Janet Rhoads

AVETT BROTHERS, 2006. Photos: Todd Owyoung

 

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