Wild and Beautiful
The Avett Brothers bring new bluegrass punk-rock energy to Monterey.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Just three years ago, The Avett Brothers were driving up to New York City regularly to play East Village coffeeshops for a hat-full of tips. Now, in a relatively short period of time, the North Carolina-based trio is one of the most talked-about acoustic groups on the Eastern Seaboard, selling out legendary right coast venues like New York City’s Bowery Ballroom and North Carolina’s Cat’s Cradle, as well as annual festivals like Merlefest—where they practially upstaged stars like Bob Weir, Hot Tuna and Bela Fleck.
Bassist Bob Crawford believes that the group is winning new fans at every tour stop because they resemble a “hurricane” onstage.
“It can be full tilt aggression and then beautiful and sweet,” he says.
Very few West Coast folks have had a chance to witness the band in a live setting. Now, the group is doing a 10-day tour of the West Coast, which ends at the Bleeding Edge Festival at the Montalvo Art Center in Saratoga, a one-day concert featuring Yo La Tengo and Brightblack Morning Light. “For us, playing out West, the odds are we are going to play for someone who doesn’t know us,” Crawford says. “It’s exciting. It’s like starting over.”
Before becoming known for their electrifying live shows as The Avett Brothers, siblings Scott and Seth Avett were the backbone of a Greenville, N.C. punk rock band named Nemo. Like a handful of other new acoustic groups (see also the Hackensaw Boys and Old Crow Medicine Show), the brothers eventually ditched the electric instruments and began to play the standup bass and banjo with punk rock energy.
Following the release of two albums, The Avett Brothers made a big musical statement with 2004’s superb Mignonette. The CD begins with “Swept Away,” a beautiful folky ballad with swelling vocal harmonies, before rushing headlong into the ragged call-and-response bluegrass of “Nothing Short of Thankful.” The ebb and flow of energy on the first two numbers is apparent throughout the album as the trio ricochets from beautiful ballads to ferociously strummed acoustic rockers.
Mignonette is a loosely based concept album about the English yacht of the same name that sunk off the coast of Africa in 1884. Five members of the boat’s crew managed to escape the sinking vessel on a lifeboat, but after days at sea, they killed and ate the weakest member of their party. Though the crime could have easily been concealed, the ship’s captain refused to lie about the incident and was hung. “The concept of Mignonette is about sticking with the truth even though it doesn’t seem like a good idea,” Crawford says.
For the recording of their last release, 2006’s Four Thieves Gone, The Avett Brothers, their road technician, their engineer and a few guest musicians holed up in a mountain cabin in Western North Carolina for 10 days. The result is a collection of songs that veers from finely wrought singer/songwriter fare, like “Famous Flower of Manhattan,” to “Matrimony,” which features acoustic punk riffs over handclapping.
At the same time that the trio is gaining widespread attention for their raucous live shows, they also seem to be at the peak of their prolific songwriting talents. “We have enough songs right now for four albums,” Crawford says.
After the release of a six-song EP of ballads titled The Gleam this September, The Avett Brothers will enter the studio once again with a different goal. “On our last albums, we wanted to recreate the live experience,” Crawford says. “We’ve never been that successful with it, so the next album will be more of a [traditional] studio album.”
THE AVETT BROTHERS play Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey, Saturday at 9:30pm. $12/advance; $15/at the door. 375-5483.