Avett Brothers Perform Secret Show to Celebrate New Album

The Avett Brothers :: 09.29.09 :: Envoy Enterprises :: New York, NY

Words: Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

An interesting phenomenon occurs when a band breaks through and outgrows its loyal fan base. The rare opportunity arises where they try their damndest to play an intimate show that mimics their early days, yet pre-show conversations tend towards a comparison of who caught the band at the smallest venue, which fans are there for the first time, and how much better it would be if the crowd was all true fans.

On Tuesday night, when The Avett Brothers performed a largely unknown New York City release party for their latest effort, I and Love and You (released September 29 on American Recordings – stream it here), to maybe 150-200 diehard fans and friends at the tiny basement bar called Envoy Enterprises, the evening predictably began like the above scenario. Yet oddly enough, once the music began peoples’ guards dropped. What previously felt like a crowded floor verging on a traffic jam opened up into a friendly chatterbox of new pals with a purpose, i.e. getting to know each other’s connections to the band, talking about what they wanted to hear and cheering like Premier League hooligans.

Praises for the new album were sung, yet not as boomingly as by the music press. While being hailed as a ‘Best of the Year’ candidate by the rags (not ridiculous by any stretch), many folks frankly seemed to say, “It’s pretty and all but I like it when they rock out.” Well, that was just before the show. As much as this sentiment rings true for some of the newer material in the album format – where no shortage of love themes and a smattering of piano-driven ballads take the place of raging banjo strums – even the heartfelt pieces emanate bursting energy in the live setting, particularly when Scott Avett gets behind the drums. Moreover, they did rock out, particularly on the harrowing imagery-laden rager “Slight Figure Of Speech,” hollering the line, “I cut my chest wide open.”

The locale should have come as no surprise to Avett fans as Scott showed his artwork at the bar back in 2008 – as was the case on this evening – in the upstairs floors of the space, which function as an art gallery, while the basement played host to the bar and stage where the Avetts performed. After the show, the band retreated upstairs to chat and sign posters.

A small show like this invites interplay with the crowd, and despite the obvious need by the band to play a hefty dose of new tunes from the new album – this being a release party and all – the crowd did not hesitate to request their favorite songs. The highlight of this interplay came after a “Chesterfield” shout out, which I believe is just a town and not an actual song. Confused, the Avetts took the banter in stride, commenting about the time they spent in Chesterfield recording A Carolina Jubilee, which led to the fan favorite “Pretty Girl from Annapolis,” which then segued into “Mary,” by the Avett’s old touring friend Langhorne Slim.

“Kick Drum Heart,” the standout catchy tune from the new album, came early in the set and earned a warm reception. This song sounds a lot like Matt Costa’s “Mr. Pitiful” and will indeed become a mass appeal staple, but may perhaps be less well received by longtime fans. Frankly, the Avetts possess heavy-duty followers, so this may become more a symbol of the major label changeover than a fan favorite. Nonetheless, the song sounds whimsical and uplifting.

Other standouts included the I and Love and You track “Ten Thousand Words,” which highlighted some honest to goodness guitar soloing and the newer-than-the-new-album tearjerker “Skin and Bones,” with gorgeous cello work by Joe Kwon and Scott Avett rocking on drums.

“I wanna fit into the perfect space; feel natural and safe in a volatile place.”

The Avett Brothers know how to work a crowd. After stomping through a smattering of old and new tunes and joking that they were excited to have finally played Madison Square Garden, the band silenced the crowd with a heartfelt “Perfect Space” that said everything about performing at an unquestionably populous yet not-quite-irritatingly small venue. The crowd packed the place. My neighbors and I joked about this being the first time New York City brought out all the tall people to a show. While most fans probably saw little more than the ornate neck of Bob Crawford‘s stand-up bass peaking out over the tops of heads, the room felt overwhelmingly cheerful.

Despite the New York locale, The Avett Brothers took a pass on the title track off the new record with its Brooklyn hearty nod, but performed a much longer, more passionate than expected, free private show. Guess the New York crew will have to wait until Terminal 5 on October 17 to hear “I and Love and You,” but The Avett Brothers proclaimed their love of the crowd and the crowd gave it back. With Rick Rubin‘s producing credit and an undeniably catchy overall feel, their major label debut will likely grow the Avetts out of their small town britches. However, with this intimate fan “thank you,” they proved that they could never grow out of their skin.

The Avett Brothers :: 09.29.09 :: Envoy Enterprises :: New York, NY
Laundry Room, January Wedding, Paranoia In Bb Major, Kick Drum Heart, And It Spread, Slight Figure Of Speech, Skin and Bone, Pretty Girl from Annapolis (with Mary), Ten Thousand Words, Perfect Space