Smile Politely

The Avett Brothers Tonight at The Canopy Club

Imagine: You’re in a suburban field in east Memphis in the middle of a sweltering summer afternoon. You’ve walked past a stand selling Pronto Pups, and one hawking Red Man spit-and-chew tobacco; behind the curtain of one booth you can see the world’s smallest horse, and behind another you can see a spider with a human head. You realize that the Delta Fair and Music Festival is quite a misnomer: this is a suburban county fair. You’ve come here to see The Avett Brothers, a North Carolinian band you expect no one has actually heard and who, despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, are a true independent, still releasing music on the small N.C. label Ramseur Records on which they started. And then it happens: the band, a three-piece dwarfed by a giant stage on which you’d expect to see the Charlie Daniels Band or Willie Nelson, starts to play, and suddenly you realize you’re surrounded by fans who know all the words; by people, young and old, hopping in time to the music, some dancing a jig and others with their fists pumped like they’re seeing the Sex Pistols.

This is the power and the glory of The Avett Brothers.

Scott and Seth Avett, like many bands of musical brothers, have been writing and performing songs together since they were children. The Brothers have, in their history, all the makings of a standard roots band, except that the Avetts use the weapons of tradition to blow tradition itself out of the water. According to Magnet’s January/February 2007 issue, the brothers model their vocals more after Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains than the high and lonesome harmonies of the Stanley, Monroe or Louvin Brothers. The music is raucous but true-to-form: Scott’s banjo playing is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll re-imagination, and Seth’s guitar work sounds more like Gram Parsons than A.P. Carter (a noteworthy aside: Seth Avett, at times, looks eerily similar to Parsons). The result is a blistering, honest rendition of the Americana dream; one painted by roots music and filled in with a frenzy of broken strings.

Is it country? Is it bluegrass? By certain standards, yes, but it’s also soulful, and has the fiery blood of rock ‘n’ roll and punk. By more realistic terms and means, The Avett Brothers lovingly turn tradition upside down and take us along for the ride. Five albums of various lengths later, not to mention Seth’s solo project Darling, with three albums, and the Brothers’ electric outfit, Oh What A Nightmare, with one, you’ll find the Avetts among the most prolific and entertaining acts in the country, having released upwards of ten recordings since 2002. Their most recent effort, Emotionalism, has earned rave reviews from press small and mighty. The band has played at the Telluride Bluesgrass Festival, among many others, and will grace the stages of Merlefest, as well as Langerado and Bonnaroo (not to mention our own area Summer Camp in Chillicothe), in the coming months. In other words, they’re ready to explode, and we’re telling you to get ready.

The Avett Brothers perform tonight, Thursday, February 28, at The Canopy Club, 708 S. Goodwin, Urbana. The show is 18+ and tickets are $15 in advance. Showtime is 8 p.m.: Be there.

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