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Not the same old Avett Brothers, and that's okay

House of Blues, Boston, October 20, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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This was not the same old Avett Brothers' performance. For starters, it was by far their biggest crowd in the area, coming close to filling a 2,200-capacity venue. But perhaps more importantly, it was a case of the sometimes country, sometimes rootsy, always high energy and raucous quartet touring behind their Rick Rubin-produced major label debut.

Rubin, who led Johnny Cash on a renaissance and also produced the Dixie Chicks, worked a different angle with the North Carolina-based Avetts, led by brothers Seth and Scott Avett.

Heretofore, the Avetts, who were on a small, but well respected Carolina label, Ramseur Records, clearly occupied far more of a country bent with an old time style thrown in. They were largely acoustic-based with a banjo prominent.

That's no longer totally the case with some tunes Beatleseque (And It Spread) and some rocking due to electric instrumentation, although live, they started with the country lilt of January Wedding from their new disc, "I and Love and You."

The question of how the old and new material would integrate in concert and whether this was a totally different outfit proved not to be problematic as the opening song proved. The Avetts toned down the wildness of the past just slightly, but not so much that older fans left their heads shaking. This was probably more the case of the natural development of a group pushed by a producer who handled his role quite adeptly.

The fact of the matter was that the songs on "I and Love and You" stood up exceedingly well on one of the best albums released this year. The material - The Avetts played about three-quarters of the disc in concert - had a catchiness without sounding commercial or coming off as an attempt to strive for mainstream support. The group seemed to gain the backing of fans just fine with a largely college, 20-something crowd in attendance.

There was no doubting the high energy of the band though. The brothers often changed instruments, occasionally within the same song as Scott Avett went from keyboards to drums. Scott and taller brother Seth Avett took turns on lead vocals, also at times within the same song. Scott possesses more of a full-bodied voice with Seth's a bit more raw and emotional. Together, they blended well.

While they could be accused of gimmickry, that was quite clearly not the intent or case. They apparently were intent to pay their own instruments and not rely on hired hands. Scurrying about only served to give the songs more energy.

There were numerous changes of pace and alterations to keep listeners on their toes. For example, upright bassist Bob Crawford sang on but one song, and it was near the end, showing the band had a few more tricks up their collective sleeves. Cellist Joe Kwon played a more prominent role as the 90-minute show wore on and was fully engaged a needed cog in the Avett machinery while generally low key in the presence department. Sometimes all four Avetts sang on a given song, sometimes oinly two were even on stage.

Curiously and unfortunately, the Avetts did not play the title track and first single of their new disc or Kick Drum Heart. The group has a lot of material to choose from, but it sure would have been nice to hear these songs and more.

The Avetts were clearly heartened by their turn of events with Seth Avett thanking the crowd on numerous occasions in a heartfelt manner. Yes, this was not the Avett Brothers of yesteryear, but rather a band clearly content with evolving their sound, while maintaining large parts of that sound and presence to get them to where they are today.

Scott Avett had it just about on target on the closing song, singing "It's the Beaches," when he sang, "Don't say it's over/Cause that's the worst news I could hear."

Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea opened. During the three songs heard, Atkins was in very good vocal form with her voice heard above the music of a catchy pop song and a few ballads. Atkins is a touring warhorse, and that showed as she performed with confidence and drew a good hand.