Avett Brothers give sincere, affecting performance
Kelly McGarry | Monday, November 9, 2015
The gauge of a quality rock band is the ways they find to surprise the audience in live performances. Even their biggest fans, who have listened to every album and seen multiple live performances, have exciting and new experiences with each show. That’s exactly what you get with the Avett Brothers, who performed at the Morris Performing Arts Center on Thursday night. The playful or sentimental folk songs that fill their many albums are easy-listening for all occasions, but their live performance brings in unexpected dimensions.
The event title — “An Evening with the Avett Brothers” — indicates something refined. In a way, it was, but there was also rawness in the performance. The beauty of the violin, cello and double bass were offset by the classic simplicity of the banjo. Fog blurred the ceiling designs of the luxurious venue. The seated spectators’ quiet appreciation contrasted with those compelled to dance and stomp. Both leading members, Seth and Scott Avett, have ditched their long locks for sleeker looks, but no aspect of their personalities was held back, especially Seth’s energy and spunk.
The brotherly connection of frontmen Seth and Scott is an obvious component of the band’s chemistry. Scott addressed the importance of family in his solo performance of “Murder in the City,” emphasizing the lines “There is nothing worth sharing / like the love that lets us share our name.” This familial connection extended to all of the band members in Thursday’s performance in the fluidity of their movements and jams.
I have noticed a common structure in many good performances. The band performs a few well-written songs essentially as recorded to engage the audience, and the Avett Brothers have a large discography from which to pull heartfelt numbers. It seems as though there’s a distinct point in the show where the band stops playing what the audience came expecting and moves onto showcasing what they want to play. The Avett Brothers are known for bluegrass music, but they don’t lean too heavily on that genre when it comes to a live performance. While they stayed true to their folk roots, they weren’t afraid to emphasize rap and rock-and-roll styles. Heavy jam sessions, like the jaunty-yet-disturbing “Satan Pulls the Strings” and the emotional “Vanity,” were the highlights.
The main focus was on the two brothers: Seth on guitar and Scott on the banjo, sharing vocals with beautiful harmonies. But the talent and energy of cellist Joe Kwon did not go unnoticed. The band also took the opportunity to showcase their touring violinist Tania Elizabeth, and she surprised the audience with a violin and vocal solo.
The band even performed an acoustic song they’ve prepared for their upcoming album. The song was called “I Wish I Was” and was filled with clever metaphors and innuendo. It was playful yet emotional and may be a good indicator of what’s to come from the Avett Brothers.
Bringing it at together with the sincere ballad “I and Love and You” during the encore, the Avett Brothers pulled off a performance that was extremely relatable and human. It was clear from the performance that the band shared all parts of themselves. They weren’t trying to fit into one particular mold. They’ve had success as a bluegrass group, a genre true to themselves because of their origins, but instead of clinging to the stereotype they explored all aspects of their talent and personality. The result was a sincere, affecting performance.