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Concert Review: The Avett Brothers at House of Blues (Boston, MA)

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The Avett Brothers may not be a household name, and your odds of hearing them on any radio station not on a college campus is very slim. Many Avett Brothers fans, or for that matter any listener involved in the folk scene, may or may not have been twisted out of their seat when they heard that The Avetts' new album I and Love and You was to be produced by none other than Rick Rubin. Well, now… Rick Rubin, this just about changes everything. The man, the legend — notably one of the most celebrated and successful producers of our time — has just come on board and rearranged, reduced and, for lack of a better word, fathered The Avett Brothers' latest record I and Love and You.

Let’s see what happens now. Take these bluegrass, folk-punk, foolish young boys from Concord, North Carolina. Tear them off of their front porch, rip the blade of straw right out of their mouths and put them on the fast track. With a record deal from American Recordings/Columbia Records, now everything is changed. Attach good ol’ Rubin’s name to everything Avett-related and you’ve got solidarity. You’ve got promotion all in one simple step. Hello, Rolling Stone; let’s talk about “Artist to Watch!” Never mind the near decade these brothers have been tossing out records, and touring their Levi’s off in the most respectable of ways. We now have a major label album; we have instruments orchestrated subtly, and lyrics suitable for the likes of the National Public Radio.

Let’s pause. First and foremost I need to make note of the talent and adroitness that these brothers possess. In every sense of the way an artist could have utterly and truly “worked for it,” these guys honorably deserve every bit of success they will and have attained. A certain sensation came over me just a short time after hearing about the Rick Rubin production — that sensation happened as I was standing in line at Starbucks. Not that I wish to attach the words “sold out” to their name, ever! But I can’t help but be somewhat irritated by this. Yep, I and Love and You can officially be purchased alongside your doppio espresso. Well, I guess you know you’ve made it when your album is located right next to the biscotti, and the new Michael Buble CD. What’s next, a guest appearance on The View?

It’s one of those things. Rick Rubin can either ruin your name — or make it.

I and Love and You is pure brilliance; a masterpiece constructed very much the same way an orchestra is developed. Each song is in the perfect slot, every instrument is placed behind the correct theme. The banjo is tuned up, or tuned down according to the acoustic emotion expected. The songs roll on down the album line; pulling you up and in to every sentiment they are trying to portray. Cut as flawless as a diamond, but then again do we expect anything less from Rick Rubin’s record mastering?

The album is a transitioning, not just in their ways as musicians, but as boys growing on into adulthood. It holds all the things any of us have ever felt in our mid-20s and early 30s but didn’t think anyone would understand. This album is the dedication to those years, those feelings translated into songs, so beautifully posed and never before put with such ease. All things concerning love, trust, friends, family, and the struggles within all of those — they are all dealt with here on I and Love and You. The next step is simply to listen.

Everything you thought you knew about The Avett Brothers you realize somewhere down by track seven, you really didn’t know — but you are damn sure learning.

All of this information left me with some feelings of uncertainty. Not so much doubt, but I realized that The Avett Brothers had a lot to prove. If this album were to really resonate as deep as it was meant to sit, I would need to see one hell of a live performance for me to believe all the hype.

Playing to a nearly sold out House of Blues in Boston on a snowy Sunday night, it would seem that neither the day of the week, nor the blustery weather deterred The Avetts from coming in and leaving blood, sweat, and tears up on the stage. The Avett Brothers are not just a duo; the band consists of Seth Avett, Scott Avett, and Bob Crawford. They turned the show into a quartet by adding the very talented cello player Joe Kwon. Nevertheless you would never be able to tell they are not all related, the vibes surging from their performance together was as connected as it ever could be.

The majority of songs off of their new album I and Love and You can be categorized as rather hushed, a slowed-down interpretation of folk-punk if you will, with the exceptions of a few songs such as “Tin Man,” and “Kick Drum Heart.” But alas, the boys did not turn this show into a touring recording studio.

They started the set off with “January Wedding,” the second song off their new album, a beautiful love song, of course at slower tones. Much to my surprise however they threw out the hush appeal and began to really rock once breaking the seal with “Salvation Song.” Playing a generous mix of old and new songs, not one fan in the crowd was left discontented.

The Avett Brothers worked and sweated their entire way through the show, leaving no person in the venue untouched by what they had to offer. They reveal not only their innermost emotions through many of the lyrics in their songs, but also prove that they are not amateurs. Although it may be the first time you are hearing of them, these guys have been around a long time. They have experience, which is proven throughout every moment of their performance.

The brothers often took turns running around the stage, bouncing back and forth from the drum kit, to the banjo, to the Hammond B-3, and back to the guitar. They shared in the vocals with the most eloquent of sounds. The blending of their voices left an amazing complement of resonance — so well it would be hard to picture one without the other. I think that is one of the things I realized about them through their performance. Together they are as strong as an army; they perform the music with such style and creativity. But solo I don’t think they could quite stand on their own without falling down. I would have to say it’s their kinship that allows them to carry out such a remarkable undertaking in their musical endeavors.

As far as communication with the audience, I don’t remember much speaking — they concentrated heavily on not slowing down, performing to tops was their main point. Which I don’t think anyone had much of a problem with. However, when they did speak in between songs it was to thank everyone. Their gratitude was among the most emotional aspect I could feel from them, throughout their music, amid their energy and within their own personal words. That is to me by far the most important thing they left us all with.

By the encore they had everyone so enthralled I had a hard time imagining how we were going to say good-bye. They closed out the set first with “And It Spread” off of I and Love and You, a clever song consisting of down time, and upbeat twists. Leaving everyone off rather right, they closed the whole sequence with “If It’s The Beaches.” Their most favored song off The Gleam, it was pleasant that they closed the set the same way it began, with love. I would doubt if there was one person in the crowd that left that night without a heavy heart.

To conclude I would have to state I am thoroughly impressed. They kept their promise. I guess folk roots don't necessarily become tarnished with a big record deal and a spot on Starbucks counters.

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About Cindal Lee Heart

  • I’m consistently impressed with the craft and thought you invest in your writing. Keep it up.

  • Thank you very much Donald. 🙂

  • zingzing

    i absolutely love the avett brothers. i lived in charlotte when they released their first few albums. i remember getting “country was” on tape from a friend, then going to see them for free at some place called the wine vault near the university. then i moved to seattle, saw them there and everyone knew the words. then i moved to nyc and saw them there and everyone knew the words. i couldn’t love them more, but this new album leaves me cold. cold, i tell you.

    i would say they’ve proved themselves as one of the greatest live bands in america. and they are amazing songwriters. but they are just… i dunno. easily influenced? aiming for the sell out? i don’t know. they’ve been susceptible to ballads and pop throughout their career, but they might have gone overboard here. there’s none of the roughness, none of the hootenanny, none of the hollering on this album.

    i’ll go see them live, but this new one is unfortunate to me.

  • Exactly Zing Zing- Thats what I was trying to say.. “easily influenced” is a great way to put it.

  • eron

    As a long-standing, passionate fan, it’s easy to try to find fault with the album that puts them in Starbucks. Their is a consistency to their music and lyrics that comes through on this album just like the rest. I’ve had a hard time with each of their albums when I first heard them because they contain elements that are so different from the previous album. The Gleams don’t rock, 4 Thieves Gone has too much Paleface, blah blah blah…

    The bottom line is that this music does fit with their greater body of work. Put their entire library on shuffle and you’ll see what I mean. If this is what they needed to produce to achieve the success all us fans want them to have, I think they found the right blend of their hearts and Rubin’s mind.

  • eron

    “Slight Figure of Speech” is a great great song. My bottom line is that these Avetts are so good that they can do radio stuff better than anyone just like they do live stuff better than anyone.