A Warm New York City Embrace for a North Carolina Band

October 19th, 2009

Avett Brothers – Terminal 5 – October 17, 2009

Avett Brothers
It had all the trappings of a rock and roll show: A big club on a Saturday night packed from stage to bar, three levels high with crazed, adoring, fans pumping fists like hepped-up hooligans. There were guitar changes after each song, sing-alongs for almost every tune and, heck, even a glittering disco ball for one number. Except this wasn’t a rock show at all. An electric guitar didn’t even appear onstage until halfway through the set. Never mind that, it was the Avett Brothers, and that was all the electricity Terminal 5 needed.

There’s probably a word for the kind of music the Avetts play, but I’ll just call it pre rock—a stripped-down country hill music with plenty of banjo, acoustic guitars, upright bass and some wailing cello. I’d also describe it as pre irony. The music, with songwriting gems throughout the set, was genuine emotion. There was no shtick or accompanying knowing wink. It read on the faces of the brothers and company as they played each song from the depths of their hearts, even while raging, hopping up and down onstage and encouraging the eager audience to do the same. The gorgeous title track from the new album, I and Love and You, took on a beefier, sing-along air than the pensive tone of the studio version, but it didn’t lose a touch of its potency. The solo piece “Murder in the City”—simply a guitar and a voice—had just as much power. Yes, it was the real thing in an ersatz age, so it should be no wonder the crowd responded like it did. —A. Stein