The sheer unpolished energy, notes teetering on the edge of musical chaos, the raw feel of the music, may be what attracts fans initially, but eventually the band needs to find a way to stay true to those elements while at the same time progress musically. God forbid, maybe they actually learn to play their instruments, creating a sound that keeps the honesty but polishes some of the edge.
Many bands are unable to harness that early energy into forming a cohesive career. The ones that do manage to grow hone that energy into a sound unique to themselves. The Clash during the 80’s come to mind. The Sex Pistols on the other hand became a self-parody and flamed out. More recently the Felice Brothers struggle to find cohesion as a unit. The Low Anthem, on the other hand, seem to be on a fast track, volunteers picking up trash at Newport two years ago to get in, this year playing the major stage alongside John Prine and Levon Helm with a sound unmistakably their own. This fall they will open for Emmy Lou Harris.
The Avett Brothers are certainly another band to make the leap, the evidence heard on their new CD/DVD, Live, Volume. The band returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, playing this time for thousands, to again document their music before a home town crowd. This time the sound was fuller, adding the estimable Joe Kwon on cello, and Mike Marsh on drums.
Rick Rubin’s production is crisp and clean, each instrument heard individually. The lyrics are allowed to stand out prominently where they should. Crowd noise is always present so you get the feel of “live” but not obtrusive.
Recorded in August of 2009, just before they released “I and Love and You” and began a year of non-stop touring, the CD/DVD captures the band just prior to making the jump to the Top 20 and larger venues. It reveals a band ready for the move up; they’ve been serious about perfecting their craft, working out their music night after night on the bandstand. Scott and Seth’s voices at times blend harmoniously, other times crashing against the other, battling in the best call and response tradition, each voice playing off the other. Scott’s vocals have developed the power of Rod Stewart circa “Maggie May”, while Seth’s tend to float almost fragilely above his brother’s baritone.
The set draws more or less evenly from their catalog. As might be expected, a third of the 15 songs were from the not yet released “I and Love and You”, four from “Four Thieves”, and the rest pretty evenly scattered among their other recordings. The evening began with “Pretty Girl From Matthews”, an early country tune from the 2002 CD Country Was, then quickly hit an early energy peak with the manic “Talk On Indolence”, drums pushing Scott’s banjo and the vocals on an ever faster pace. The band settled in behind the vocals, Bob Crawford’s bass providing the bottom and Joe Kwon’s electric cello playing rhythm or improvising fills behind the vocals. Scott plays banjo and he and Seth alternate on guitar, piano, and drums.
Critics have said the measure of a live recording’s worth is whether we regret missing the show. I’ll add another, whether hearing it makes us want to catch the band on its next swing through town. Live, Volume 3 should induce that notion for many. Their tour lasts through the fall, watch for sell-outs. –Glide Magazine