The Avett Brothers at Riverside Theater
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Some fans were undoubtedly annoyed when Saturday’s Avett Brothers show was moved from its original venue Turner Hall to the much larger and more formal Riverside Theater. But judging from the wildly rapturous response the band received as soon as it stepped on stage—actually, the audience was even cheering the pre-show lighting changes—it would have been impossible to contain the excitement these ascendant pop folkies have generated since the release of its 2009 breakthrough record, I And Love And You. Like it or not, but the Avett Brothers are well on their way to being huge. The next time they play Milwaukee, don’t be surprised if it’s at the Bradley Center.
That might seem hyperbolic for a group that hasn’t yet gone platinum. But the Avett Brothers have picked up an impressively large army of fans over the course of 10 years by touring tirelessly and putting out records nearly every year. Add in the fact that this is an incredibly likable band that plays simple, uncomplicated songs with the awe-inspiring energy of an especially spastic aerobics instructor, and all the formula needs is a little media attention—which the band is finally starting to get—to grow exponentially.
Whether playing as a full five-piece band on new songs like the set-opening “Head Full Of Doubt,” as a trio on the hippie funk of “At The Beach” from 2004’s Mignonette, or just as a brotherly duo of Scott and Seth Avett on the Gleam EP highlight “When I Drink,” the Avetts were given the full-on rock-star treatment by an audience that was willing to overlook the group’s fairly pedestrian chops and occasionally groaningly sappy lyrics. Because I And Love And You is essentially an homage to early ’70s singer-songwriter albums, a song like “The Perfect Space”—where Seth earnestly sings cringe-tastic lines like, “I wanna have friends that I can trust, that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was”—comes off like an aesthetically accurate re-creation of heavy-handed, James Taylor-style solipsism. Live, however, it became another big, wrap-your-arms-around-your-neighbor moment that you had to just experience (preferably after several beers) rather than analyze.
Lest things get too sentimental, the Avetts were good about following up the ballads with revved-up rockers like the infectious “Kick Drum Heart” and the irresistibly bouncy “Slight Figure Of Speech” that showed the band’s proclivity for feel-good power-pop. (Emphasis on the pop.) While the Avetts are good (and sometimes really good) songwriters, they really are great performers that can make even their most ham-fisted material mostly painless. The Riverside’s stage is bigger than most that the Avetts have played, but with the command they showed Saturday night, it’s obvious they’re ready to go even bigger.
In contrast, opening band The Low Anthem sometimes struggled to make the coffeeshop folk of 2008’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin fill such a large space. The contemplative “To The Ghosts Who Write History Books” is quite a lovely song, but it simply couldn’t reach the chatty latecomers sitting deep in the balcony. The Rhode Island quartet fared much better when it dropped the precious singer-songwriter act and commenced to rocking out on the tangled, roughhewn blues of “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You ’Round” and the thrilling Tom Waits (by way of Jack Kerouac) travelogue “Home I’ll Never Be.” By the end of its 45-minute set, The Low Anthem had won more than a few converts.