Thursday, March 11, 2010

They say that this is where the fun begins

On Saturday I headed back to Milwaukee for my second show of the weekend, The Avett Brothers at the Riverside Theater.  The Avetts are a prime example of performers who have grown in popularity since I first saw them.  In fact, it happened in a very short period of time.  I heard Avett Brothers buzz around Emotionalism on 2007 end-of-year lists, but didn't get a chance to see them until October of last year.  That show was at the Barrymore in Madison.  Though I think it did sell out, it didn't do so until the night of the show.  Fast forward five months to Milwaukee.  The Avetts had been booked to play Turner Hall, capacity slightly higher than the Barrymore.  That venue sold out, and the show was moved to the two-and-a-half-times-larger Riverside.  Which also sold out in advance of the show.  Not bad, Avetts.

Inside the pit, we found spots up front with a great view of the stage.  The unassuming openers, The Low Anthem, impressed with their set.  Comparisons were drawn to Duluth's Low, and I could definitely hear that.  I'd like to see them in a smaller setting with less background chatter, but they did a good job with such a big place.

As mentioned above, this was only my second time seeing The Avett Brothers.  Last time, I half-assed a review of the show because I was busy, though I did enjoy it very much.  I specifically noted the infectious energy on stage, despite having been told that as Avett Brothers shows go it was a relatively tame outing.  This time, I felt even more energy from both band and crowd.  Curious, at first glance, since the Barrymore is so much smaller and more intimate than the Riverside.  Maybe it's a sign that the Avetts are truly ready to fill much bigger spaces.  The band - especially Scott Avett - took advantage of the larger stage: jumping up and down, parading along the stage's edge, even laying down a few feet from us while furiously strumming the banjo during the encore.  It may still be true that the Avetts of a few years ago were more of a spectacle, but perhaps they're ready to let their music do more of the talking.

If so, they did an admirable job.  On this tour the band has a designated drummer, allowing more instruments to blend together on songs that require it.  The majority of those are from last year's excellent I and Love and You.  Despite some more involved arrangements on these newer songs, most of the Avetts' tunes aren't overly complicated.  The word that comes to mind when I hear them is "pure."  Some are pure fun, others pure energy.  There's beauty and sadness and sweetness.  (A little goofiness sometimes, too.)  And it all comes through most clearly in the live setting.  Some of my favorite moments Saturday night came when the audience sang along loudly ... in fact, on songs like "The Perfect Space," you could say we screamed along.  In contrast, other favorite moments came when there were just one or two people on the stage, like Scott's solo turn for "Murder in the City."  My favorite song of the night was "Laundry Room," in which a quiet, almost delicate beginning becomes a full-fledged rave-up by the end.

Even before I'd seen their live show, I liked The Avett Brothers.  Each time I see them, I come away liking them more.  At this rate, even that crazy Bayfield show up north in July might become fair game.

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