With his eyes forward, Scott Avett fixed his gaze on the sea of people ahead, solemnly strumming as the sandy finish of his acoustic caught the light that rained down from above. Holding that guitar close even when pointing its neck towards the sky, he broke through the thunderous applause that greeted The Avett Brothers with a solo rendition of “Murder In The City.” Blending into the unlit scenery behind him, his bandmates Bob Crawford and Seth Avett stood in the shadows, as still as statues. With their hands folded over their instruments, they watched as intently as the audience, occasionally bending their heads towards the ground after taking in the sight of the thousands in front of them. Mike Marsh, Joe Kwon, Tania Elizabeth and Paul Defiglia also appeared motionless after finding their places on the large stage, nearly camouflaged completely by the dark surroundings of the 14,000 capacity amphitheater. In town to perform for those inside the gates of Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center on a chilly Saturday night (05-14-16), the band would spend the next two hours sharing plain spoken poetry that was hard hitting, eloquent and –when at its best- beautiful.
After Avett quickly traded his guitar for a banjo, everyone sprung into action, suddenly visible and on the move after being illuminated by a cascade of spotlights. Shaking the stage as they launched into “Talk On Indolence,” they bolted around so fast that it’s entirely possible that the smoke billowing high above their heads had come from their own movements. With their backs to a glowing blue backdrop depicting a rural schoolhouse, they continued to fly through a set list splashed with harmonies as gorgeous and warm as the sun. Playing everything from the gentle waltz of “Down With The Shine” to rowdy, ragged gems like “Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Writer),” they frequently revved up before gradually slowing down, rising and falling like a river. On tour in support of their soon-to-be-released ninth studio album, True Sadness, the pace they applied to their performance allowed them to showcase their catalogue in a way that represented every chapter of their history as a band.
“This is ‘True Sadness’”
After introducing the track for which their new record is named, Seth Avett’s stinging electric guitar merged with the crisp sound of Marsh’s Ludwig drum kit. Quickly unfurling itself to reveal a rolling rhythm, the song finds its narrator disenchanted, even fearful of the pain that everyone seems to carry, sticking to our ribs without ever asking permission. Although when the melody slows down, the guitarist touches on a cruelty that is heaped on others, relating the treatment of a girl named Angela who, “became a target as soon as her beauty was seen.” As Avett’s pleading vocal brimmed with disdain, he asked, “Is she not more than the curve of her hips? / Is she not more than the shine on her lips? / Does she not dream to sing and to live and to dance down her own path, without being torn apart? / Does she not have a heart?” After pounding on his chest, he nodded his head to the beat as he dropped his shoulders and furiously struck every string on his guitar.
Once the song ended and the crowd’s clapping dissolved, Crawford and the group’s two songwriters huddled around a single microphone located at the center of the stage. With the house lights dimmed, they played another True Sadness track, “I Wish I Was” as a trio, before introducing Jim Avett for a special performance of the traditional gospel hymn, “In The Garden.” Sharing smiles with Crawford, the Avetts beamed as their father stood between them, the audience’s cheers nearly drowning out his verse.
“It’s been a pleasure, it’s been a joy, y’all. Thank you for being so kind to us.”
As Seth Avett’s words filled the venue and the end of the show grew near, the audience voiced their own gratitude with a deafening round of applause. For their last performance prior to a three-song encore, the band played their 2009 breakout “I and Love and You.” As the lead single from their major label debut record of the same name, it’s the song that many in attendance probably heard first, making it both a gateway drug and a symbol of the enduring positivity within their music. Sharing verses and trading others, Scott and Seth Avett sang with voices coated in honey as Kwon’s gleaming cello lifted the song’s arrangement as high as the city’s skyline. And though they’ve traveled down a foot-path that has gradually lead to arenas and stadiums, their connection with their audience hasn’t been lost along the way, proving that you can play venues like Madison Square Garden –and the Mann Music Center- and still belong to everyone.
True Sadness Is Available On June 24th
Article: Caitlin Phillips