Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Avett Brothers with Old Crow Medicine Show

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine

Ken is seeing more music in 2014 than I am! And he has two small children, so I have no idea what my excuse is. I think I’ve been hibernating this winter, and even the 45 minute drive to Portland has seemed like a genuine trek given the darkness of the season. Today is the first day of spring, though, so I expect all that to change soon. Here’s another beautifully written post by my dear friend and comrade-in-music, Ken Templeton. Thanks, Ken! I feel like I was right there with you!

xo,

bree

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It’s pretty hard to overestimate how much The Avett Brothers’ music means to me. I remember sitting at Chumley’s with a friend many years ago, telling him that I’d been casting about for new music. “The Avett Brothers,” he said. “They’re bluegrass-with-muscle.” I’ll confess that I didn’t go to the music store: I went to Napster. I stole a few songs like At The Beach and Old Wyom. Within a few days, I was at Bull Moose, cleaning them out of the few Avett Brothers discs they had in stock. But it was seeing them live that made me really love this band. Their passion, vulnerability, and joy for music have made Avett Brothers concerts some of the best experiences I’ve had as a music fan.

It was great to see them again (for the fifth time) last Monday at the Civic Center. I first saw them years ago at the Trocadero (a place I used to see The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Toasters and The Bouncing Souls play when I was in high school). The Troc is a great little club, a little smaller than the State and there really isn’t a way to replicate that intimate experience in an arena. But the Avetts’ energy is infectious and capacious, and more than fills a room – even a big one.

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured:  Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured: Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

They started out with Shame and Die, Die, Die, both off of Emotionalism. Shame is so much fun – great song to get a crowd of people belting out: “Shame / Boatloads of shame / Day after day / More of the same.” They followed these up with Talk on Indolence, a ripping stomp of a song that is usually featured in the beginning of their sets to draw everybody in. It’s from Four Thieves Gone and I think represents some of the different musical influences on this band: the banjo is strong and driving, there’s some punkish screaming, the song begins as a rap (sort of), and the tempo goes from all-out frenzy to drunken slowness and back again. While it’s hard to say that there is one song in the Avetts’ catalogue that captures them, this one might be it.

Ketch Secor joined the band for Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Ketch is probably the only guy in music who can make Scott Avett seem somewhat subdued. It was fun to see them play together. He can rip on the fiddle and his back-and-forth with Seth on the guitar was a blast.

Live and Die and Laundry Room came next. I was really hoping for Laundry Room. (They kicked off that show at the Troc years ago with it, and I clearly remember being transfixed.) That tune just has so many great lines – for me, it’s all about this verse: “Last night, I dreamt the whole night long. / I woke with a head full of songs. / I spent the whole day; I wrote ‘em down, but it’s a shame. / Tonight I’ll burn the lyrics, cause every chorus was your name.”

At this point, I was pretty sure they’d play something off their new album, Magpie and the Dandelion. Nope. They jumped into a breakneck version of Old Joe Clark with a slow, slow, slow interlude of The Roving Gambler, back to an even faster OJC. OK, now something from Magpie. Nope. Distraction #74, from Four Thieves and then At The Beach. I love At The Beach. Not only was it an introduction to me for this band, but it evokes, for me, rolling down your car windows and cranking the volume on this tune and giving the accelerator a little more shoe. “I know that you’re smilin baby, / I don’t even need to see your face. / Sunset at the shoreline / We are laughin, breaking up, just like the waves. / Are you feelin, feelin, feelin what I’m feelin – like I’m floating, floating / Up above that big blue ocean. Sand beneath our feet / Big blue sky above our heads, no need to keep / The stressin from our everyday life on our minds / We just had to leave all that behind.”

At this point, my dogs are barkin. There hasn’t been reason at all to sit down and take a load off. The whole show has been stunning. And then they kick into Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, which has to be one of the great descriptions of willing yourself to believe, despite what all the evidence might point to: “There was dream / And one day I could see it. / Like a bird in a cage, I broke in / And demanded that somebody free it. / There was a kid / With a head full of doubt / So I screamed til I died / And the last of those bad thoughts was finally out.” This song, and others like it off I and Love and You (like The Perfect Space) used to feature a lot of instrument-switching for the band – Seth would jump on the drums while Scott went to the piano. Now they have a full band, with Joe Kwon on cello, Mike Marsh on drums, and Justin (?) on organ, and the sound on songs like Head Full of Doubt rises to meet the grandeur implied by the lyrics.

11 songs in, they played Another is Waiting, the single from Magpie and then Skin and Bones, which is one of the great little gems on the new album. I was shocked that it was over an hour into the set before they played any new songs. But one of the great things you can see if you look at the Avetts’ set lists is that they really are different each night. Of the 26 songs they played in Pittsburgh, two nights prior to Portland, 11 were played again in Portland. (Looking at that list, it seems like they did include a few songs that feature just Scott and Seth, which didn’t happen at the Civic Center – that aspect of their show is usually so wonderful and I definitely missed it. There was an extended stage into the audience, and I thought that there would be a lovely little three or four song mini-set of the two of them on songs like When I Drink, Ten Thousand Words, Murder in the City, and Tear Down The House.)

Salina is one of my favorite Avett Brothers tunes – the one I used to introduce the band to my friend Max Garcia Conover (see here and here for Bree’s reviews of Max’s recent shows) – and it was fantastic. “Cleaveland, I ain’t never felt nothin’ so strong. / Been believin’ the words to my songs, / Ohio, I’m leaving. Ohio, I’m gone.” This video of Salina is awesome – it’s over in Glasgow, Scotland and when Seth sings the bridge, a lovely Scottish lass yells “sexy bastard” at him, making Scott kind of laugh, trying to sing, “Poughkeepsie, hang up the telephone.” And, while we have a minute, how many bands can throw Poughkeepsie into a song?

I and Love and You was, as it always is, rousing and beautiful and spiritual and gorgeous. Seth on the piano and Scott leading the crowd through chorus after chorus: “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. / Are you aware the shape I’m in? / My hands they shake, my head it spins / Oh, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in.” In the past, I have seen them end shows with this song, so it was interesting to see it here, and I think that it probably doesn’t work as well in the middle of a set – it seems like it either has to come at the very beginning or very end. It would be a great opening song, I think. To some degree, I felt like there was a four-song lull after “I and Love and You,” and I think at least part of that is this is a hard song to follow up.

They followed with Pretty Girl from Chile, a song I like, but is harder to engage with in concert, I think, because it leaps through the gamut of the band’s musical influences and expressions: it starts like a fairly standard country-ish tune: “I’m no more than a friend girl / I can see that you need more. / My boots are on my feet now / My bag is by the door.” But then it goes all flamenco (Seth’s guitar on this was spectacular), then heavy, driving, power-chord electric guitar, then hilarious answering machine message. Each part of the song was good, but it seemed like crowd had a hard time following the progressions. The next three songs are ones that I just don’t dig as much: The Fall, then Vanity, and Never Been Alive. All fine songs, but The Fall has always been a bit uninteresting to me, lyrically speaking, Vanity is my least favorite song on Magpie and Never Been Alive is a song from Magpie that just felt too slow for this part of the show. I sat down and took a rest at this point.

Paranoia in B-Flat Major and Go to Sleep ended the show – two really fun songs to sing along to and stomp around. Both songs are from Emotionalism and are kind of quintessential Avett songs, with a good amount of dissonance between the upbeat music and lyrics that explore some very challenging emotions. In Paranoia, Scott sings, “There was a time I could move, a time I could breathe / With crowded spaces filled with angry faces, it didn’t once cross my mind / With paranoia on my heels, will you love me still / When we awake and you find the sanity is gone from my eyes?” The crowd sang with Seth on Go To Sleep as he led a call-and-response of “La la, la la la la.” There was plenty of laughter, on stage and in the crowd, as he climbed out of our range into his own high notes that were barely squeaks.

The encore was stupendous. Old Crow Medicine Show joined and they tore through Fireball Mail before leading the audience in a really fun version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken, with Scott, Ketch, and Seth taking turns singing verses.

Then, Seth, who normally hits all the high notes, comes out with: “Doh, doh, doh, doh,” in the low register and we all start singing “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.” It was sweet and fun, and if you were there and weren’t singing, then you’re a cynic. I guess there are worse things to be, but not at an Avett Brothers show!

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The Wood Brothers with Chris Kasper

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I knew I wasn’t going to able to make it down to Portland for this show since I’d agreed to babysit my sweetie’s little ones while he was at work all day. After reading Ken Templeton’s show recap (he’s making writing these beautiful recaps a habit, so maybe I should start calling him an official whatbreesees.com correspondent?!), I’m so sad I missed the show. I also want to second Ken’s concert etiquette tips! Thanks, Ken!

xo,

bree

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“I don’t have a record label. I don’t have a booking agent. But the Wood Brothers invited me on this tour, because that’s the kind of people they are,” said Chris Kasper, the opening act for The Wood Brothers on a bone-chilling Sunday night at Port City Music Hall. I thought about what he meant and think it is very closely related to the person described in the Wood Brothers’ tune Postcards from Hell, about a talented musician struggling to make it. The chorus goes: “When you ask him how he sings his blues so well, / He says I got a soul that I won’t sell, / I got a soul that I won’t sell, / I got a soul that I won’t sell, / And I don’t read postcards from hell.” I don’t mean that the connection here is that Kasper said he doesn’t have a label and neither does the guy in the song–it’s that the Wood Brothers seem most interested in music and musicians that play for what Oliver Wood called, pointing to his heart, “the right reasons.” Call it passion, call it love – Oliver even called it selfishness, because musicians often leave their families for weeks or months at a time on tour – it is all corrupted by a pursuit of fame. The Wood Brothers also know that luck is involved and that there is talent the world-over that goes unrewarded in any material sort of way, and that the only way to keep going is to put your music or art or passion into the world for its own sake.

And that’s what they did last Sunday. The night began with three songs from their latest album: The Muse (the album’s title track), Keep Me Around, and Sing About It. The album is fantastic and these three songs anchor it. Each of them features three-part harmonies that filled the room. Oliver begins in Sing About It: “If you get too worried… / What you ought to do is sing,” and Chris and Jano join in on the chorus: “Sing about joy / Sing about love / And hopin’ it lasts / Sing about your troubles / And they just might pass.” There is a sincere belief in the power of music that runs through their songs – not just in overt references like this, but also in the sincerity of the lyrics throughout their catalogue. The Wood Brothers have been described as gritty, and I wonder if we use that word these days to talk about music that is honest and describes sometimes difficult subjects – in addition to using real instruments and featuring vocals that aren’t perfect, but are true.

After beginning with three new songs, the band played some older stuff: Pay Attention, from Smoke Ring Halo, and then a full-tilt version of Atlas from their debut album Ways Not to Lose. Check out Chris Wood’s playing on Atlas – there just aren’t that many bass players who can do what he’s doing on that song. It’s impressive on YouTube; it is jaw-dropping in person.

Oliver switched to electric guitar for a few songs: Twisted, Postcards from Hell, and the funky, really fun Who The Devil before bringing out “Big Mike,” a 360-degree microphone so the band could play “old time.” Oliver said, “Now the thing is about the olden times is that people didn’t have facebook and cell phones.” In other words, people actually came to concerts to listen to music, as opposed to coming to concerts to document their own lives.

This is an aside, but I have a few small rules for myself about concerts:

  • I don’t shout requests. I don’t care if other people do–I think it’s an honest expression of appreciation for the music–but I am always excited to see what a band or artist has chosen, or chooses in the moment.

  • I (now) allow myself one picture with my phone, but no videos. I found myself taking a video at a concert and essentially watching the song through my phone instead of really being present for the performance itself. There are enough videos on YouTube of these songs, but not enough chances to experience great music in person.

  • I (now) tell people to shut up when they’re talking during the show. Right at the beginning of this concert, Chris Wood was playing this beautiful introduction on his bass with a bow and someone says, “That ain’t no cello, that’s Chris Wood on the bass.” I was one of two or three people who immediately said shut up. Thankfully, the person did.

OK, sorry. So, they gathered around Big Mike and began with Firewater, one of the songs from The Muse I didn’t think I would hear, but am so glad I did. I actually listened to it on the way to the show in the car, and it is just gorgeous: “You think I’d’ve learned / All the times I was burned / Deserving the blues, / And I sure got ‘em. / The drinkin’ and pills / The head-shrinkin’ bills, / They got high.” They invited Chris Kasper and Kiley Ryan to join them for a haunting rendition of In The Pines, an old Leadbelly tune famously covered by Nirvana. Oliver encouraged Kiley to take a couple of sweet solos and his voice meshed perfectly with Kasper, Chris and Jano. (Of course, we also had to tell someone to shut up.)

The Wood Brothers. Courtesy of Ken Templeton.

The Wood Brothers. Courtesy of Ken Templeton.

The version of Luckiest Man was really cool. Normally, the song starts with Oliver strumming, then Chris and Jano joining for rhythm, but this version featured only the bass and some spare drumming for the verses, then the full band for the chorus, which the crowd belted: “Running is useless / Fighting is foolish / You’re not gonna win, / But still, you’re the luckiest man. / You’re up against / Too many horses / And mysterious forces / What you don’t know is / You are the luckiest man / You’re the luckiest man.”

What is amazing about this band is its range. They are able to have the whole place rocking back and forth with heavy, thick guitar licks, like those in Honey Jar and then quiet the whole place down on a song like Blue and Green. These songs were actually back-to-back, because Oliver broke a string on Honey Jar (only time on the tour, he said). He kept playing during Honey Jar, and the broken string seemed to encourage him to extend his solos. They took a second to regroup and talk about what to play next. Those first notes of Blue and Green were like a gift – so many people around me heard them and just said, “yes.” It’s an amazing song that captures how people we love are always here, even after they’ve left the planet.

The set ended with one of my favorite tunes, When I Was Young and the classic blues tune Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor. When I Was Young features some of my favorite Wood Brothers lyrics: “When I was young I never looked at the clouds and hoped for the rain. / When I was young I never thought this life should ever bring me sorrow. / When I was young I thought, someday everybody’s gonna know my name / When I was young my hardest work was waiting for tomorrow / … Now I’m grown and things are not exactly what they seem / The older I get, the less I know and the more I dream.”

For an encore, Chris Wood introduced their first song as by one of the great American composers, and they play it, even though it’s not in their typical genre. “People call us Americana,” he said, “whatever that means.” What it means, I think, is that your fans are as likely to dance to the melody as they are to dance to the beat. I’ll just link the song here, because it’s pretty fun and a nice surprise.

Their final song, One More Day, was just too damn good. It was full-energy, all-out. During the song, Chris put down his bass and just started dancing – so much fun (you can see his moves in the video linked above). I saw a friend after the show. “I hadn’t heard a lot of their stuff before this,” he said. “I gotta go get some albums.” It was an amazing show – another friend said it was in his top ten concerts of all time and that’s true for me too. It’s clear to me now why a buddy of mine once told me The Wood Brothers are the only band he would but a plane ticket to go see – and why, the next day, I was looking at their tour schedule, thinking, “You know Europe’s not that far…”

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The Lone Bellow

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Music Hall, Portsmouth, NH

I have absolutely no objectivity when it comes to The Lone Bellow. They are by far my favorite band right now. I love their desperate, powerful delivery of gospel-infused country/folk songs. They are truly something special. I was so excited when my sweetie was able to take a night off of work to join me for a school night road trip down to lovely Portsmouth, New Hampshire to see them again. I decided to take the night “off” for date night, and so I didn’t get a press pass, didn’t take notes, and only took a few low quality photos with my iPhone at the show. (There are, however, two thorough posts about The Lone Bellow on my blog—one from last June and another from November. Check those out if you want to know more about the band and/or see quality photos).

Blue sky over Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Blue sky over Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Jeff and I grabbed some coffee, walked around downtown, and had a delicious dinner at The Friendly Toast before heading over to the stunning Music Hall for the show. The Lone Bellow played as part of The Music Hall’s Intimately Yours series, so there was no opening act and we got to have a whole night with just the band. It felt like we were in their living room.

The Friendly Toast

The Friendly Toast

Table

The Music Hall's pretty ceiling

The Music Hall’s pretty ceiling

A beautiful theatre for the show

A beautiful theatre for the show

Pre-show selfie

Pre-show selfie

stage

The Lone Bellow looks really different through an iPhone

The Lone Bellow looks really different through an iPhone

Zach on the floor leading the audience in our part

Zach on the floor conducting audience participation

My concert friend Colin was there, too, and he sent me The Lone Bellow’s set list for the night:

I Let You Go

You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional

You Never Need Nobody

You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To

Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold

Georgia Will

Watch Over Us (off mic)

Two Sides of Lonely (off mic)

Tree to Grow

Bleeding Out

Angel From Montgomery (Prine cover)

Hickory to Telluride

Button

The One You Should’ve Let Go

——

Slip Slidin’ Away (Simon cover)

Teach Me to Know

One of the biggest highlights of the night for me was when the band stepped away from the microphones and Brian led on “Watch Over Us.” His delivery of that beautiful song was breathtaking. He got a standing ovation. It was wonderful to hear “Two Sides of Lonely” off microphone, too, and both songs gave the night a genuinely intimate feel.

The band dedicated their performance of  “Angel From Montgomery” to the legendary John Prine, who is currently fighting lung cancer. Zach told us they’d recently played the song on the Cayamo Cruise and Brian’s hero, Kris Kristofferson, impromptuly jumped onstage to sing it with them. Check out this video of that moment.

I was totally taken with The Lone Bellow’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” with Kanene on lead vocal during their encore. Someone took a video of it that night, so you can see exactly what I mean! It was one of those rare times when a cover was absolutely better than the original. I sang it for days after the show. They closed the night with the crowd signing along on “Teach Me to Know” and sent us on our happy way. If The Lone Bellow isn’t on your radar, well, you are more than just missing out. They are spectacular. What a wonderful night.

xo,

bree

I can’t resist. Here are some proper Lone Bellow pictures from the last time I saw them:

The most fabulous Lone Bellow. My DSLR camera does them far more justice!

The most fabulous Lone Bellow. My DSLR camera does them far more justice!

IMG_4959 IMG_4973 IMG_4994 IMG_5003 IMG_5024

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