The Avett Brothers: Live, Volume 3

The Avett Brothers
Live, Volume 3
American/Columbia
Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s no secret that The Avett Brothers put on a great live show. The incredible energy and joy these men bring to their performances attracts everyone from mosh pit staple frat bros to card-carrying hipsters and every iteration of flannel-wearer in between. Their chronic universality hasn’t seemed to diminish their credibility much – no Dave Matthews Band syndrome here – it’s just hard not to like them.

Both in person and on this album, it’s clear that the brothers are having the absolute best time of their lives. Musicians having obvious fun are always the best to watch, and The Avett Brothers have some serious fun. Their mama didn’t raise no fools either – the band realized this particular strength very early on, releasing their first concert album way back in 2002, only a couple years after their very first record.

Live, Volume 3, recorded last August in Charlotte, North Carolina, is The Avett Brothers’ first live album since hitting the semi-big time with two fairly recent and widely lauded studio records, and it manages to show off both the band’s developing maturity and their lingering messy brilliance. Standout tracks like “Talk On Indolence” and “Colorshow,” with the bluegrass-slash-screaming sound that makes The Avett Brothers so much more than just a sentimental alt-country band, are at their rugged, frantic bests in this format, sounding even more brutal than they do from the remove of a live audience seat. These are the songs that blow a crowd away, and the savage growling is even better in headphones.

While these tracks arguably have the most impact, none of the songs fall completely flat – after all, this was a carefully planned set, full of tried and true fan favorites – but some of the newer fare, most notably I And Love And You single “Kick Drum Heart,” isn’t much enhanced by the live format. Next to the songs they’ve been playing together for years, it sounds thin, and the demonstrative kick drumming almost alarmingly gimmicky. “The Perfect Space” also feels lifted directly from their newest album, especially when followed by the jaunty classic “Paranoia In B Flat Major.”

Their ballads, however, shine. “The Ballad Of Love And Hate” is gorgeous and almost stark, backed only by a quietly plucked guitar, the crowd’s excitement filling in the gaps. Lyrics that in another context could seem overworked and sentimental (“Love takes a taxi/ A young man drives/ As soon as he sees her, hope fills his eyes/ But tears follow after at the end of the ride / ‘Cause he might never see her again”) benefit from the atmosphere and minimalism. “Murder In The City” is just as simple and sweet, and “Shame” works in the opposite direction, roughed up a bit to a great effect. A disarmingly earnest band at the most produced of times, the live versions of their most emotional songs cut through any distance between the musicians and the audience.

Then there come the sappy, if darling, interjections from the Avetts. The wails of “I’m so happy right now I can barely stand it” and copious I love yous and Oh my goodnesses directed at the crowd just barely manage to be heartwarming all the way through. “It’s real difficult to sound sincere on microphone,” one of them calls out. Well, they make it seem easy, and if you’re a fan it’ll melt you. It seems to melt the brothers themselves a little too – if you listen close, you can hear a voice crack now and again. This sort of sincerity, mostly eschewed by popular artists today, ultimately makes the album a little more than the sum of its parts. And what else can you really ask for?