Low volume was not a problem at the Avett Brothers show at the Boulder Theater Saturday night. Oh no, not at all. The Avett Brothers were making a ton of sound for three guys and 16 strings, give or take a couple dozen broken ones.
See, I won these tickets to go to the show. And I was going to give them away because the Avett Brothers are bluegrass and I’m not so into that. Plus, we have a couple of their CDs and, from my point of view, they’re just okay. Pleasant, for sure, but nothing I was really excited about. But I ended up going to see them anyway, and while I’m not sure what I heard Saturday night, it definitely wasn’t straight-up bluegrass.
I had been warned, "It’s not your regular bluegrass." Yeah yeah yeah. But I had heard their discs. Not bad, not great. So I was not prepared for this, let’s say. There was none of the dreaded plink, plink, plink of a mandolin and the high lonesome sound that bluegrass music requires. No, this stuff was intense. Mind-blowing.
The very enthusiastic audience apparently knew better about what to expect than I did. By the time the Avetts had started their second song, almost everyone had deserted their tables and were down in front, as close as they could get.
The group consists of Bob Crawford (standup bass) and brothers Scott (banjo,) and Seth Avett (acoustic guitar). The brothers share in the vocals with Crawford chipping in from time to time (when he’s not spinning his bass around).
The forceful way they hit those strings, the clever and sometimes blunt lyrics, the intense emotional, even sardonic vocals, the bold harmonies, the manic banjo – it all just came together in a most unusual and exciting way. Indescribable, actually.
The music was so loud and powerful, I couldn’t catch every lyric but "Pretend Love" stood out as particularly clever. A sweet ballad, sounding a lot like something Elvis would have played with he had a hardcore banjo player and smarter lyrics, instead of that stupid ukulele and those insipid lyrics he always got handed ("I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You" comes to mind). How much better is "My love for you was pretend?"
We had to leave before the show was over so we cut out during a lull while they were repairing their instruments — which seems to be an ongoing activity for The Avett Brothers. Actually, we lost count of the number of times the mandolin was switched out or strings had to be replaced on the fly. And, as we left the building, we heard one of the brothers say something about being in a "constant state of breaking everything we own." Which I guess is an occupational hazard if you are just gonna play flat out like that all the time. Well worth it, though.
So, if you get the chance, go see those Avett Brothers. Don’t be askeered of that "bluegrass" label – it’ll be an experience you won"t forget.