Aug 16, 2011

"I thought I’d loved bands before, but I was wrong."

The Reverb Essay: An Avett Brothers superfan tells all
by Ricardo Baca
Originally published Aug. 16, 2009

Falling in love with a band is a funny, intense thing. And I’m not talking about casual, iTunes-culture fandom. This is a much more serious relationship, the kind that involves the obsession over a band’s media, the dissection of album art, the devotion of traveling long distances to see the band play live.

I thought I’d loved bands before, but I was wrong. The Avett Brothers proved this to me when I first heard “Emotionalism,” the North Carolina quartet’s last full-length record.

On first listen, I was hooked to the Avett Brothers’ surreal combination of folk instrumentation, power-pop choruses and punk aesthetics. On second listen, I was already singing along, unconsciously memorizing the words. On third listen, I was e-mailing all of my friends MP3s, urging them to run and buy this record — now. On the fourth listen, I was ordering their entire back catalog.

Armed with that grotesquely brilliant canon, my love affair began. The Avett Brothers — who play four Colorado shows this week, including dates at the Boulder Theater on Friday and the Ogden Theatre on Saturday — are my life’s great musical love. I’ve loved before — David Bowie, Dandy Warhols, the Beatles, Neil Young, and the Jesus and Mary Chain. But none has compared to the way I feel about the Avett Brothers and their music.

What’s special about the connection I feel to this band is that it’s uniquely mine. You have yours, if you’re lucky to have found it yet. Chris has Nine Inch Nails. Nichole has the Pixies. Jason has Phish. Kit has Amy Ray. John has Guided by Voices.

These bands are the soundtracks of our lives. They give us light and direction. They give us solace and strength. We don’t technically know these musicians. (I interviewed singer-banjoist Scott Avett via telephone in 2007, and I met him briefly backstage at a Seattle rock club in 2008.) But we know them through their music, and with some bands, that’s more revealing and important than shaking their hand.

Why do I love the Avett Brothers? I get asked that a lot. Much of it comes down to my love of rock ‘n’ roll, which drove me out to concerts at a breakneck pace for the first six years of this job. Some weeks it was three shows. Other weeks it was six or seven.

Acoustic craving

After all that amplified music, I woke up one day in need of something acoustic. I went to folk and bluegrass shows, and I listened to old Dylan bootlegs and Neil Young LPs. That was great, but it wasn’t until I got word that a band called the Avett Brothers was playing the 2007 Telluride Bluegrass Festival that I found what I was truly looking for.

If “Emotionalism” rocked me, seeing the Avetts play two shows in one day — a festival set at Telluride and a late-night set at a very sold-out Sheridan Opera House — rolled me.

I was owned, and other shows followed: at a sold-out Soiled Dove Underground in Denver; two sold-out shows at the Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C.; three not-quite-sold-out shows in Southern California (Solana Beach, Anaheim, Los Angeles); two sold-out shows in Seattle at Neumos; one sold-out show at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Ore.; crazy festival sets at Monolith (at Red Rocks) and Sasquatch (at the Gorge Amphitheater in central Washington); an elegant set at the Strings Music Pavilion in Steamboat Springs.

With each Avetts show comes a renewed sense of life — a reminder of purpose. In their music, Seth and Scott Avett talk about honesty, fidelity and vitality. They sing drinking songs and dancing songs. They praise family and pretty girls, and they tell tales about the road, about Kansas and Manhattan.

I’ve introduced friends to the band, and the records weren’t enough. They had to see them live to get it, and that’s understandable. The Avetts are the best live show on the road right now, with flying banjos, kick-drum dances, stand-up-bass twirls, mastered acoustic guitar, fluttering cello lines and lyrics that are as quotable as Oscar Wilde or Ralph Waldo Emerson.

They used to stage-dive occasionally, but you don’t hear much about that anymore. They don’t need it. Their shows are already packed with energy and life, enthusiasm and love. It’s why a group of friends and I are road-tripping to Telluride on Wednesday and Steamboat on Thursday — both mountain shows are free — and Boulder on Friday and Denver on Saturday. It never gets old, and judging by the Avetts’ new, Rick Rubin-produced full-length “I and Love and You” — out Sept. 29 as their major label debut on American/Columbia — it never will get old.

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