It was worth the hassle of spring break gridlock to attend the Avetts Brothers' concert at Clearwater's oyster shell on Friday, March 25. They didn't necessarily rumble the rafters but performed with majestic sophistication and all-grown-up confidence to a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall audience.
The performers were Seth and Scott Avett (pronounced Ay-vett), bassist Bob Crawford, cellist Joe Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards, all delivering pitch-perfect musicianship, Southern charm and a good -- if not complete -- selection of crowd-pleasers.
First, let me say that I was wary and puzzled when I heard the Avett Brothers were playing Ruth Eckerd.
[image-2]I'd seen the Avetts at casual outdoor venues like the Cuban Club and Skipper's Smokehouse, and wasn't sure if a proper performing arts facility would do the bros' visceral style justice. But if you take into account the band's dapper image revamp and their Rubin-ized power ballads on 2010's I And Love and You, Ruth Eckerd provided an appropriately elegant and intimate setting for, dare we say, an American supergroup of the early 21st Century.
So, were the Avetts more subdued than usual? I'd have to say yes, but only slightly so.
They really can't help but be the heart-on-the-sleeve rockers that lured an eclectic fan base made up of indie kids, country fans, aging ex-hippies and other mostly white rock 'n' roll fans (didn't see one African-American in the audience; if you did or were one, let us know).
The Avetts' mix of old-fashioned Southern showmanship and rebellious energy is still intact -- it's just that so much of their recent material doesn't lend to their more raucous side.
Both brothers harmonized beautifully and switched off on guitars and electric piano. Their vocals sound better live, offering an urgency and sense of melody that doesn't quite come through in recordings.
Staging details included a tastefully subtle light display and backdrops of a pirate ship and other artwork by Scott Avett [pictured right], who played banjo for the first third of his performance. A backdrop silhouette of the Brooklyn Bridge descended with epic grandeur during "I and Love You"'s chorus: "Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in."
Highlights of the show included the enduringly lovable and jaunty "Paranoia and B Flat Major," a tune that showcases the Avetts' knack for heartwrenchingly honest, empathetic and confessional storytelling without coming off as corny a-holes in the process. The crowd sang all the lyrics to the tune, virtually drowning out Seth and Scott's hearty wails.
In the likewise upbeat tune "Matrimony," cellist Kwon kissed the arrangement with a ghostly riff vaguely reminiscent of the Violent Femmes.
[image-3]The tender, heart-tugging "Ballad of Love and Hate" spotlighted Seth's sonorous lilt with a spare acoustic back-up, backed by an audience sing-along with just about everyone in the crowd chanting back his two interjections of "whatever."
Some tunes noticeably absent from the setlist were the love-lost anthem "Shame" -- cue David Spade's rant about bands refusing to play crowd favorites -- along with "Murder in the City" and popular Emotionalism tunes "Will You Return," "Living of Love" and "Weight of Lies."
They opted for less-played-out numbers (well, played-out to them because they play so damned often) such as "Go to Sleep," "Pretty Girl from Annapolis" and the woozy waltz "Down With the Shine."
But even if they were mocking the live-music routine a bit, the Avetts didn't seem at all jaded, expressing enthusiasm and appreciation toward the crowd. Seth shouted out before their encore, "We love you! We love you! We love you!"
Scott earlier said, "No matter how tough it gets, when you get a room like this, it's perfect."
Only two songs rounded out the encore, "November Blue" and the catchy stomper, "Kick Drum Heart." The two percussionists remained on the stage at the very end, leaving us with a hypnotic heartbeat coda. It echoed the aw-shucks emotion the Avetts leave with fans after a show.
Opener Langhorne Slim kept a restless settling-in crowd more interested than usual.
Playing a mixture of folk, blues and rock, the feisty and heartfelt band -- apropos for an Avett opener -- was led by Sean Scolnick, a fedora-wearing Pennsylvanian with a bluesy rasp and a Jagger swagger. Scolnick engaged the audience with crowd surfing and ear-catching witticisms.
The Avett Brothers Setlist, 3/25/11
Pretty Girl From Feltre
Paranoia in B Flat Major
I Killed Sally's Lover
Down With the Shine
When I Drink
The Ballad of Love and Hate
Die Die Die
Go to Sleep
I and Love and You
Pretty Girl From Annapolis
Head Full of Doubt, road Full of Promise
Kick Drum Heart
More photos by Andrew: