The Avetts Were Back! The Avett Brothers at Portsmouth Pavilion, August 12th
The Avett Brothers on August 12, 2016
My wife and I have probably followed the Avetts as much as anyone over the past decade or so of watching/hearing a lot of “Americana” music (et al). And, I probably have some 8 or 10 albums of theirs (incl. side projects). I don’t think we’ve missed any of their local shows during that span, including those at Norfolk, Virginia’s Attucks Theater’s Discovery Series, one of which was a legendary 25-song concert we were reminded of recently by our friend music writer and house concert promoter Jim Morrison in an article prior to the Portsmouth show.
However, the last Avett Brothers visit was perhaps a couple of years ago, and some of their key personnel changes had not yet been made. That show was also at the Pavilion, then the Ntelos Pavilion. To our surprise, it didn’t fill, to my memory, and Gayle’s, didn’t really come that close. Some of our friends had lost interest in the band as well.
This year’s show was, happily, different. To my eye, there weren’t any empty seats stretching back above Gold Circle into the grassy, folding-seat world beyond, and a sea of people from young to old flooded out into the achingly hot Virginia night afterwards.
And were they engaged! I’d not heard so much unison sing-alongs of a band’s performed songs since some of the earlier Avett’s shows we’d been to, including the wonderful raising of hands and fingers to illustrate the three-in-one aspect of Scott’s tune “I and Love and You.”
I may not have the same passion I once had, but within a few minutes of this last concert, I was “gone,” knocked over and down once again; and I stayed in a state of enchantment throughout the two-plus hour performance, from the hard, full-out rockers to the ballads, even down (or up) to quiet, edgily beautiful duos of only the brothers and their guitars huddled shoulder-to-shoulder ‘round a mic.
It was a parade of oldies but goodies, with songs from virtually every album they’ve ever done, but also featuring a number of tunes from their latest True Sadness, for which they are touring. I fell in love with the one cover they did as their first of three encores, The Prettiest Thing of under-recognized Avett favorite, the unique and greatly talented singer-songwriter, fellow North Carolinian David Childers, featuring a too-seldom heard, and beautiful, solo passage by bassist Bob Crawford. The setlist also includes the surprisingly, for them, macabre I Killed Sally’s Lover (You can run as fast as you want to boy, I’ll kill you just the same.) from one of their Live albums.
For Gayle and me, the concert was an introduction, to most of their new band members (whom, to our disappointment, the brothers didn’t introduce during the show), who include Paul Defiglia on piano and bass, with an extensive musical background from jazz to punk rock and playing many years with the also high-octane performer, Langhorne Slim. Additionally recruited full time has been drummer, the mellifluously named, Mike Marsh, who owns a background of driving the rhythm of Dashboard Confessional and is father of an upcoming 10-year-old percussionist daughter.
Most strikingly to us was the addition of a woman to the mix, the multi-talented, show-woman cum fiddler (& on and on), with an amazing voice, keeping mostly to the circumference of their sound with her harmony contributions but featured once that night in an amazing solo that was creative and traditional at the same time. She is Tania Elizabeth, once a child prodigy and for some ten years a member of the redoubtable Duhks. She and Joe Kwon, flying cellist for so long with the Avetts, appeared at times like a clowning and always dervish-ing married acoustic couple on various parts of the Portsmouth stage.
Meanwhile, their dad, Jim Avett, major influence on the brothers, is to some extent playing the summer circuit, with an appearance upcoming at Muncie, Indiana’s Red Barn.
What follows is my Stream of Consciousness reaction to this momentous and harmonious return of the Avetts to our seaside part of the world in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
The Avetts Were Back!
The Avetts were back.
like candy in our mouth.
Seth and Scott, Bob, Joe Kwon, they took the stage
like they’d never give it back.
Rollin down the aisles, just like that
Lights, and stagecraft, Shakespeare-like
I don’t remember what
we talked about.
I just remember your face.
The “prettiest thing that I had ever seen”
The Avetts were back,
could feel it in your bones,
When Bobby Crawford crossed the stage and
Took those David Childers words down deep
Inside my heart
I didn’t know why, but it hurt.
Just, I just remember family
20th day, why, birth, that day, she dropped me?!!
& why they have a song, the 20th?
The boys had a girl now, with voice that pierced
The moon, running the stage,
Face’s expression like cane sugar dripping
Off a spoon the notes of J Kwon’s cello, the
Lift of Scott and banjo’s majic,
We had put the words where
We could, like gear, where we cd get them
They Roll, right up there with us, knight’s words,
That high - eyes sealed like diamonds
(stolen polished dimes)
And melodies so rich you eat them with your
fingers Extended - raise them high!!!
I and Love and You
I and love and you
Thousands of us, raised indexes of blended melody,
Approximating harmony, in such a disordered mass
Of us, some with beer, I’m sure, down all the holes
Yet, song, as well,
Melody the wall around the seafront auditorium,
With men, and boys, and
Girls, and women strong –
I, and you, and love.
Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north
One foot in and one foot back
But it don't pay to live like that
So i cut the ties and i jumped the tracks
For never to return
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in
Are you aware the shape I'm in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins
Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in