Avett Brothers – Live at the Orpheum

We took in the Avett Brothers last night at the fabulous Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver, part of the 2012 Vancouver Jazz Festival. What the hell the Avett Brothers have to do with  jazz I’ll never know, but that’s not a question i really need to consider.

We have one Avett Bros album, the 2009 smash I and Love and You, which we have on frequent rotation. What I like about the album is the highs it hits, harmonic, structured, roots rock and roll sung with sincerity and passion. They come off as a young band with a tremendous up-side. Think of John and Paul in the early days and I don’t think you’ll be too far off. They have that kind of potential.

Live, they were a bit of a gong-show. It was like seeing some epic hair band sing classic rock except they played it straight and true with acoustic instruments and clear links to the American tradition. The boys, Scott and Seth, attempted to light the stage on fire and pretty much succeeded, especially Scott, who ran about the stage like a madman, thrashing the banjo, exhorting the crowd (I’m sure he was head cheerleader in high school) to clap hard and sing loud, and singing his damn heart out as loud as he could. Seth played the role of the quiet and contemplative younger sibling, the one with the high range voice, but he too had his turn in the spot-light and didn’t disappoint.

There were some serious highlights here. First, though I don’t know their full playlist, they opened with a thunderclap and the crowd, seated per ticket in designated spot, surged forward to the front and generally rendered the concert a free-form affair. Good for them – it cleared a couple of rows in front of me and made the concert that much more enjoyable.  We did have to stand up to see anything at that point but I’m never going to complain about that, especially at a rock show.

The highlights for me were mostly from the I and Love and You album. Although I don’t know their full repertoire it seemed to me that the song-writing was generally stronger on the later album. I don’t put this on familiarity as I generally have an open mind about these sorts of things.

After kicking the stops out from the get-go, and leading us through a good 45 minute workout with their cellist, stand up bass man, and drummer accompanying the acoustic sound-scape, the lads did some songs as an acoustic duet, and these were, for me, the real highlight of the evening. In particular, Ten Thousand Words, already an amazing song, took on a very personal aspect when the brothers sang it in harmony. They really have something special going on.

I had a great time at this concert, but there were a few caveats. This is a personal thing, but I typically despise sing-alongs. I know it’s a strong temptation for the artist(s) to try and involve the audience to make the show more personal and special. I say play your heart out and let the audience determine the level of participation. For god’s sake, don’t pump your fist and tell me to clap man. Play your song and let me decide.

That’s me, and it’s a small point. The Avett Brothers in concert were much as I expected, having lived with their album for a year or so: young, passionate, prone to hyperbole, awesome, and a study in greatness at the beginning. I am interested in seeing where these boys take their stuff because I think they have the potential to do something big, in the popular space, something worthy of my time and also something that will resonate in a wider sphere.

What I’m saying is that I believe they could become a pop-music institution, if the trajectory follows its current arc.

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