I thought I’d be writing this post in early 2012, seeing as the Avett Brothers were going to play a show in Iowa City around that time. Since shows at the Iowa Memorial Union Main Lounge rarely sold out, I waited and waited and waited to buy my ticket and then when I finally thought seriously about getting my ticket…fuck. Sold out.
My beloved Sleigh Bells maybe filled half the room when they played there in April. That’s hyped-as-fuck Sleigh Bells. With $18 tickets. Half-filled ballroom.
The action on the Avett tickets told me a couple of things:
I am lazy, as I waited weeks to take action on those tickets. (I did not make the same mistake with the xx, whom I will see at the sold-out First Avenue show!)
The Avett Brothers must be really good live, if they are selling out a room in Iowa City with little media hype, no SNL appearances, not soundtracking commercials, no new album out, etc., etc.
The first point was simply a reiteration of known fact. The second point was driven home by their performance at the Fabulous Fox Theatre (which is indeed quite fab) in St. Louis.
It was worth the extra drive, if you ask me, for a number of reasons.
First off, the show gave my better half and I the chance to celebrate our anniversary in a way that differed from your typical dinner at the local Biaggi’s or Red Lobster or at home with some Papa Murphy’s. Let’s leave the little fella with my folks, drive a few hours, get a hotel room, enjoy a big city, enjoy some tunes, sleep in the next morning, drop in on some family, and come home to our boy who could hardly stand being away from us those 32 hours or whatever.
(It’s been 12 years as of Sunday. We’ve experienced a lot AND it feels like time has flown, if that makes sense. And with only a few exceptions, she still hates my music. I love her anyway.)
Second, we were able to hang out with our good friends JD and Sondra (the latter of which went to the Sleigh Bells show 30-some weeks pregnant, totally earning the respect of the MoSS? crew), sitting in the outdoor dining area of Kota Wood Fire Grill, drinking drinks and eating eats and enjoying the ambience of an urban arts scene quite different from a typical night in downtown C.R. It was good to get away and yet enjoy the comfort of our friends’ company.
Third, there’s no way standing around the cavernous IMU Main Lounge could hold a candle to sitting in the balcony of the gorgeous Fab Fox, with its ornate touches and outstanding acoustics.
The stage was set for the Avetts to dominate…and dominate they did.
The evening was billed as, um, “An Evening with the Avett Brothers,” which meant no opener. In old guy speak, that also meant we’d get more than two hours of music from the headliner and still be leaving the theater around 10:30. Winning! (Right?!)
The Avetts opened with “Die Die Die” and proceeded to kill it for the next 140 minutes. These guys can do a little bit of everything: raucous romps, slow burns, mournful moments. They criss-crossed through the catalog with ease. They profusely thanked the crowd every two or three songs. They had energy to spare throughout the set.
And if I were to start a “fantasy band” league, I’d have to rank Seth Avett as one of the blue-chip players. That guy can do so much so well. He played his guitar with reckless abandon, he showed great touch when manning the keys, and sang his heart out. And he did his best to propel the beat via stomping the stage at every turn.
Scott’s no slouch either, providing the signature banjo sounds and his own solid vocal work, and Bob Crawford owned the stand-up bass.
Perhaps the greatest moment of the night came just past the halfway point of the show. A single overhead spotlight shone down on Scott and Seth as they sang “Murder in the City,” a song from their 2008 EP The Second Gleam. The brothers stood within the small-diameter circle of light, singing “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing, like the love that let us share our name.” The simplicity of the song strips the lyrics bare, and their delivery comes off as sincere rather than hokey.
Then Scott walks off, leaving Seth alone in the spotlight, where the younger brother absolutely stunned the sold-out theater with his rendition of “Souls Like the Wheels” from the same EP. It was nothing short of magical to hear him deliver line after line, punctuated with the last verse:
Souls like the wings
Spreading out away from bad memories
Make us capable of taking off and landing
Alive with understanding
Let me go, let me go, let me go, let me go
Let me go, let me go, let me go, let me go
You could hear a pin drop for a few moments before the room came alive with hoots, hollers, applause, and screams of joy. It was one of those moments where I once again found myself entranced with live music, the kind of moment where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It was also the kind of moment where you might fear the show, or at least the main set, was over. But nah…instead the stage lights come up, the rest of the band takes their places, and Seth says, “OK, I think we’re getting warmed up now.”
I didn’t shoot any video (too scared, as there were venue staff everywhere) but I see someone shot a song from the encore, another intimate affair from the Brothers Avett. Enjoy.
Something about live music in St. Louis. I’ve seen six shows there (The Cure, Jose Gonzalez, Explosions in the Sky, Interpol, M83, the Avetts) and all six were superb. Can’t wait to go back. And hopefully next year I’ll hit the Pygmalion in Champaign-Urbana…