Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Avett Brothers--Canopy Club, Urbana, Illinois


(Ms. Wen, special guest poster, is our resident adult contemporary/ alternative-country/ no depression/ hootenany/ Kurt Rambis/ old-time raggity/ professional hollerer/ jug band expert. We call her from the bullpen to cover only her very favorite bands without any attempt at objectivity, and with a completely biased, 100% gush-fest attitude.)


I look to my left, look to my right. I’m surrounded by Caucasians with ‘fros, flannel and shaggy hair. Is this a casting call for Superbad 2? Lord of the Rings, the musical? I’m alone. I text messaged my friend a description of the scene. He replies, “lesbian night?” I giggle. I’m a few years removed from the college scene, so I gather that this is the new look. Young’uns enjoy their new-found right to drink beer in public. I choke down my two dollar PBR and wonder if after a long day at work it will make me too sleepy to enjoy the show.

Rarely do I venture outside the Chicago city limits purely for the sake of a show. But there are a few locales in the vicinity that are mini-hubs for good music. Some of my favorite shows have been in Milwaukee (the Pabst) or in Madison (the Orpheum). When I saw that the Avett Brothers were going to be in my hometown of Urbana, I simply knew I could not pass this up. The opportunity to see a great band AND get some of Mama Wen’s homecooked grub? Jackpot!

The Avett Brothers arrived on the campus of the University of Illinois kicking off a whirlwind tour of fifty dates from now until August. They booked the Canopy Club, a venue that long ago was a movie theater, the Thunderbird. My guess was that I was one of the few people that knew that. My guess was that I was one of even fewer who had actually seen a movie there. The concert hall had walls painted with faded jungle scenes. An inclined floor towards the stage spoke subtlety of its past existence.

Opening for the Avett Brothers was a pixie by the name of Jessica Lea Mayfield. Outfitted in green hair, a green dress and a moody voice she took stage and nervously crooned through her way through a short set. While her homespun tunes and soothing voice were innocent and sincere, I couldn’t help but think that these songs will somehow end up on the soundtrack to the 24th season of the O.C. or some WB trainwreck. Nevertheless her songs have a catchy quality, especially “For Today” which I caught myself humming the day after the show.



The Avett Brothers started with two great songs, “Please Pardon Yourself” from Mignonette and “Shame” from their most recent album, Emotionalism. The North Carolina trio (Scott Avett on banjo, kick drum; Seth Avett on guitar, high hat; Bob Crawford on double bass) has become known for their frenetic stage presence, somehow mustering the energy to play every show like it’s their last. They scream, sprint in place, jump up and down on a kick drum pedal, and snap banjo strings three times in one song. They have evaded being pigeon-holed into a particular genre. In attempts to describe them they have made strange bedfellows- the Everly Brothers, the Violent Femmes and the Beatles. They have been described as punk, “newgrass” and Americana. Brothers Scott and Seth have rich, unpolished voices that harmonize and crack at just the right part of a song. Scott has a slightly twangy voice, Seth’s is similar but deeper. In spite of their unfettered, maniacal songs, they spoke sheepishly to the audience in a thick, hospitable southern drawl. Their lyrics are simple and at times witty, idealistic and hopelessly romantic. A single song can transition effortlessly from tender to knee slapping in an instant. Amidst the clinking of beer glasses and loud chatter a strong following emerged and sang along even helping out when Scott forgot lyrics. Added to the mix was Joseph Kwon, a wiry, long-haired Asian man on the cello, who interestingly played it standing up while walking about the stage. Fans loved him for some reason.

Highlights of the set included “Wanted Man”, “Left on Laura, Left on Lisa” from Four Thieves Gone and “If I Get Murdered in the City” a new unreleased song by Scott Avett in which he sings to his family, especially his brother. The Avett Brothers selected songs from each of their six released albums quite diplomatically, not relying too heavily on songs from Emotionalism. This made me feel confident they were not just trying to push an album (even though the backdrop was an enormous tiled curtain of the Emotionalism album cover).

I hope their stage act does not become forced or disingenuous over time because boy these guys are fun to watch. Their website declares “it costs nothing to be honest, loyal and true”. This billing seemed fitting for the audience - bright-eyed college kids whose job it is to test limits, pull all-nighters and seek their passion. Even better than the college music scene, they would outfit a summer music festival perfectly. I would really enjoy them standing barefoot on grass, sipping a beer, acquiring melanoma under a blazing sun. The idea seemed extremely attractive as I walked out of the Canopy Club to an all-too-familiar scene in February- a snow storm.

--Audrey Wen

6 comments:

Alex said...

The O.C. was canceled over a year ago and the WB hasn't been around in eons. Get a television, you're out of the loop.

drizzle262 said...

silly. since when do things still need to be in existence for an album to be produced?

Alex said...

Is that a dig at Tupac?

audrey said...

yeah, and in the way that she is circling the drain, ms spears' next album.

Anonymous said...

Back to relevance ...

Nice Review.

Thank you.

s

Heather said...

The Avetts put on the most amazing shows. Their energy is palpable. I'm glad you enjoyed their show, and your review is great.

 
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