November 19, 2008

Avett Brothers Draw Die-Hard Crowd to State Theatre

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From the balcony of the State Theatre, the turnout for the Avett Brothers seemed unimpressive. Save for a scattering of patrons and a small contingent of students having their own private rave in the upper corner (complete with glow-sticks), the balcony was largely deserted. Fortunately for everyone, the balcony was so depopulated because the entire audience decided to get as close to the stage as possible — the lower level of the theater was the most crowded I have ever seen it, and filled with the most enthusiastic crowd I’ve ever seen (or heard).
The Avett Brothers — Scott and Seth, backed by Bob Crawford on the stand-up bass — are one of a very small contingent of musicians who inspire real enthusiasm and loyalty in their fans. Most people won’t drive from North Carolina to Ithaca for a two-hour concert, yet it seemed that most of the audience had come quite a distance to see the band.
What the band plays isn’t quite folk and it isn’t quite rock and it certainly isn’t folk rock. The best description I can muster is “fast folk,” which, while a little literal-minded for my taste and only partially accurate. It does describe the speed and fervor of songs like “Pretty Girl From San Diego” (one of a series of songs dedicated to a variety of pretty girls in various locales), which sounds like a traditional folk song played at twice its usual speed. What this description leaves out, though, is the versatility and skill the group brings to their music. On their records, and in concert, they switch between slow folkier numbers and frenetic laments that seem to be perpetually teetering on the brink of unraveling into a chaotic noise. But, whatever they’re playing, the Avett Brothers manage to mine that rare strain of unvarnished and unsentimental emotion.
To experience the full gamut of what the band can do, one need only check out the music on their Myspace page, starting with the lilting “St. Joseph’s” through the heart-rending “Murder In The City” and the brazenly honest plea “Shame” and realize that the Avett Brothers play music few others can, or would, play. Maybe that’s why people will travel hundreds of miles to see the Avett’s: They’re like nobody else.