04 March 2011

Avett Brothers @ Smith Opera House

A pretty straightforward way to turn your regular superfans into rabid superfans is to be sure and mix it up night after night. That's the only way I can explain the Avett Brothers' maniacal fanbase. I mean sure they are a great band, write great songs, and put on great live shows, but so do a lot of bands, and they aren't blessed with the fans that the Avetts are blessed with. I don't know why, but I continue to be mystified by this. When we headed out a few hours before doors opened for an early dinner and drinks and there were already a good 30 people standing out in the sub-freezing temperatures waiting to get in I was a little surprised. As a person who owns most of their albums, follow them on twitter and facebook, and have seen them live 4 times, it's a little odd knowing that I hardly even register as a casual Avett Brothers fan.

The last time I caught a non-festival Avett show was two summers ago at Water Street. It was barely even half full and tickets were a reasonable 20 or so dollars. This time they were playing the more sizable Smith Opera House in Geneva, easily sold it out, and were charging twice as much. Impressive.

The show wasn't any better or worse. Tough to think they could put on a bad show, not sure any combination of their songs would be disappointing and they're not taking any bold risks that might fall flat. Quality songs and their raucously energetic live re-imaginations is a (seemingly) simple formula for success. Still, as I looked around the room during the show, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Oh, that's the lyric we cheer for? Sing along to this part? Hands in the air now?

And like I said earlier, what keeps em coming back is the simple fact that the set list varies every night. Bands like Wilco and My Morning Jacket put on fairly incredible live shows, though they won't really mix it up from show to show for a whole tour, maybe even a whole year or more. The Avett Brothers throw in songs spanning their career, and don't shy away from that rare unrecorded nugget that some fan who's seen 100 shows has never seen. I don't think I will ever be able to fully appreciate the nuances of their live experience, but I enjoyed it all the same.

I was equally excited for the opener Jessica Lea Mayfield who has eluded me a couple of times. Unfortunately she continued this trend when she canceled last minute to appear on Letterman the next night. Lame excuse! Her brother's band, David Mayfield Parade, performed in her stead. I had been made aware of Avett fans general dislike for Jessica prior to the show and there was an audible relief when the announcement was made. I'm not sure I have ever seen a crowd take to a relatively unknown (I think?) opener so quickly and so exuberantly before. Also unusual for an opener, because the show was GA they were playing to a full house for their whole set. They had the crowd up and dancing midway into the hour long set and practically calling for an encore by the end. David's mannerisms, humor, and appearance all reminded me a bit of both Zach Galiafanakis and Reverend Peyton. They played a blend of old time country, folksy pop, and all out rock. Personally I thought they were pretty good, but nothing worth seeking out, but I think the majority of the crowd felt much differently. Very well-received set.

If you want to know what the "real" fans thought (and see the set list), check it out here:

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