The Avett Brothers with Nicole Atkins @ The Fillmore at Irving Plaza, 6/12/09

Seeing the Avett Brothers for the first time is like being inducted into some hillbilly cult.

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Seeing the Avett Brothers for the first time is like being inducted into some hillbilly cult. Even in New York City, the Avett Brothers command the stage like they were born to own it. The band, who you can read all about in our recent American Songwriter cover story, hail from Greenville, North Carolina, and are legitimate kinfolk. In a short while, they’ve gone from playing local haunts to signing with Columbia Records. Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash wing man Rick Rubin was impressed enough to produce their upcoming album, I and Love and You, due out August 11. They play for keeps, and to elevate your soul.

The brothers, Scott and Seth Avett (guitars, banjo, drums, keys and vocals), bassist Bob Crawford, and tour cellist Joe Kwon bounced and frolicked on the Fillmore stage like puppies in a pet store window. Fans were hot for all the Avett’s songs, including the brand new, instantly lovable “I and Love and You.” As their set progressed, a fine mist of sweat could be seen rising in the air, stirred up by the crowd getting their dance on. The Avett Brothers riled them up and spurred them along, all the while expressing their appreciation. “We always love playing New York City. Thank y’all so much.”

So what separates them from your average, high-energy string band? Pathos, for one. They’re not all about beer runs and chicken shacks. Songs like “Paranoia in Bb Major,” off 2007’s Emotionalism, make you move your head and stomp your feet, while engaging your deepest, most worried feelings. Their lyrics are thought-provoking, well-rounded and romantic.

They’re also great musicians and showmen. Seth Avett has a melancholy streak and a velveteen voice, which he sends flying around the room like an uncaged parakeet. Scott Avett brings the charm and the perfect beard*, providing counterbalance to his brother’s quirks and eclecticism. And bassist Crawford serves as the rock, the foundation, and other bass player cliches. Seriously though, he’s great too.

The band opened with “I and Love and You,” with its pleas of “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in,” bound to elicit wooh’s from the New York City crowd. “Tear down this House” also had a high wooh-to-lyric ratio (“I remember crying over you/and I don’t mean like a couple of tears and then I’m blue/I’m talkin’ about collapsing and screaming at the moon/But I’m a better man for having gone through it/Yes, I’m a better man for having gone through…”)

New song “Standing with you” has a countrified melody the Band could appreciate. Another new one, “Perfect Space,” features the killer line, “I wanna have pride like my mother has, and not like the kind in the bible that turns you bad.” Show opener Nicole Atkins, who rocked the crowd earlier with her dramatic voice and ferocious band, the Sea, came back out to lend vocals and charm on a sweet tune I didn’t get the name of. Her music kind of reminds me of a 50’s girl group tinged with an 80’s pop-metal-rock voice singing songs arranged by Rufus Wainwright.

The Brothers wrapped things up with “Murder in the City,” another crowd favorite (for obvious reasons). They’d be back the next night, to get emotional all over again.

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* Note: I’m pretty sure the Avetts switched beards since 2008.

Check out photos from night two at the Fillmore here.


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