I began grad school in the fall of 2005 at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Little did I know it at the time, but the three years I spent there would yield some of the greatest concert experiences of my life. I had just moved from Baltimore and though I was able to see some great shows in the Baltimore/D.C. area I was also shut out of many other ones due to the fact that many of the most sought-after acts would sell out in a matter of minutes. I did not expect to see that many great shows in Gainesville, but I soon found myself pleasantly surprised not only by the great shows I saw there, but I was also treated to some of my favorite concert-going experiences outside the area in Orlando and Jacksonville. The best part was that I never had to worry about getting tickets because none of these concerts ever sold out, with the exception of Springsteen but even those tickets were easy to get for a Springsteen show.
But all things must pass and eventually I graduated and moved to Port St. Lucie where I secured a job at a local high school. Since then, I have been in a fairly steady concert drought, save for my annual trip to Bonnaroo every June (by the way, have you seen the lineup this year? SWEET!!!!!). However, recent events have changed things up a bit and over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to secure tickets to see three of my all-time favorite live acts. The first of these shows occurred last Saturday and I thought it would be nice to blog a bit about it.
If you haven’t seen an Avett Brothers show before, you really are missing out. I like a lot of different bands and artists and can speak very highly of many of those live acts I’ve seen. But for the most part I can be objective and say that at least on some level, I could understand why someone would not like one of those bands or live shows. People have different tastes and I respect that (for the most part). But I honestly think that just about anyone with any appreciation of modern rock, pop, folk, country, or punk would really enjoy an Avetts show. Little kids love them (I happen to know a couple of six-year-olds who are infatuated) and old people love them too (I sat behind what appeared to be an 80 year old woman at this particular show, and she even stood up for a majority of the performance). The band attracts fans of ages and nearly all genres. I’ve probably seen them about ten times now and Saturday night’s performance at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville was the most recent. And as always, they did not disappoint.
I had a great seat and was about ten rows back in the middle. There was no opening act and the band played for about two hours. They played a good mix of more up-tempo rockers and slower somber ballads. A highlight would be a solo acoustic performance by Seth of “Last Song to Jenny” which is an absolutely gut-wrenching and beautiful breakup song. Inevitably, when an artist tries to set up a more intimate setting during a show and really slow things down, you’re going to get the occasional d-bag who thinks it’s cool to just shout out whatever he wants because, for this brief moment, he knows that he’ll get everyone’s attention. Add to that the amount of alcohol this guy consumes and this happens way too frequently. I will say that despite this occurrence, there were some moments of the song when just about everyone was silent and all you could here was Seth and his guitar and it was absolutely stunning. We were only treated to a few short moments of this, and I can only imagine how ridiculous it would have been had people kept quiet for the majority of the song.
The band did an excellent job of drawing from all of their albums and I can’t really say that any one was more dominant than the other. Personal favorites include tracks off of “Emotionalism” as they draw some of their best live material. The band clearly loves what they do and they put so much energy into every song they play and when you really think about it, it’s amazing how they are able to do this night after night. All that screaming cannot be good on the vocal chords.
If I had any complaints, I’d say that they played too many slower songs, or at least, there were too many played in a row. While these may be some of the most beautiful you’ll ever hear, I just can’t help but want to see an Avett show that rocks out and places just a few of the ballads in here and there. I know the guys are getting older and are branching out, but those foot-stomping, head-banging, all out punk ho-downs is what a stellar Avett show is all about. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen them so many times, or that in some strange way I’m used to them, but I think there is something to say about the novelty of seeing one of their shows for the first time. I first saw them at a very small and intimate club in Annapolis, Maryland and they have yet to match that performance. In some ways, I’m always looking for that show again, and I never seem to get it.
I could also see how someone would find their stage demeanor a little cheesy and over the top at times. While the band pours so much out into their music and care so very deeply about what they do, it’s almost impossible not to chuckle here and there with some of their antics. Like Scott getting all emotional while he holds his arms out and counts the three words “I and Love and You” as he sings the chorus of the title track of their last album. I have no doubt that they are totally being genuine in their antics which is one of the reasons they’re so great. It’s just that sometimes, for me, it seems to be a bit much. And if you need any more evidence, go read the liner notes to “I and Love and You” and you’ll get more of an idea of what I’m talking about.
Oh, and they always manage to play one of my least favorite songs of theirs, “And It Spread”. I really tried to like it this time but it just doesn’t do anything for me. However, given the reaction of the crowd and how much they all seemed to like it, I suppose this is more on me than the band. But it did cause me to think and wonder what it really is about the song that I do not like. For the life of me I can’t put my finger on it. I just think it’s kinda lame. I would have much more preferred "Talk on Indolence" which is their best live song, and I only seem to get to hear it from time to time. I totally admit that I'm nitpicking here and the fact that they played a song I don't particularly care for is fine, because every artist is going to have at least one song that you’re not going to like. Hell, the Beatles had “The Long and Winding Road” so even they’re not immune.
All this is not to say that I don’t get into their shows anymore, because that is far from the truth. They are one of my all-time favorite live acts and I will always take the opportunity to see them if I can. I genuinely believe this is a band that anyone will enjoy seeing live and with so many different tastes and people out there, this is a very difficult thing to pull off. In that way, they actually are like the Beatles. Their music is timeless and I will listen to it years after the band’s tenure is over.
Oh, and if you do ever go see them, I recommend having at least a few beers to help get you in the mood. Not that it's absolutely necessary, but it's one of those shows that becomes so much more salient and meaningful if you do. But I will say that the beer is much better if you drink it than if you spill it on some poor unsuspecting soul standing on the floor below you, which is exactly what happened to me and a few others around me midway through the show. After being doused with the cool frothy beverage, the guy behind me said “I think it may be water”, but it sure didn’t smell like it.