Sunday, February 8, 2015

Avett Brothers - Austin, TX 2014-10-11 (concert)

The picture to the left is from Herbert and Lisa at the Avett Brothers concert in Albuquerque, New Mexico 2015-02-04 (setlist).  They went to the show on my recommendation and although they I think they enjoyed it, the Avett Brothers didn't resonate with them as much as they do with Danette and me.  One thing they mentioned about the NM show is that the venue, the Santa Ana Star Center, was too large for a band like the Avett Brothers.  Judging by their picture, it looks like their seats were pretty good, but they still felt the venue was not intimate enough for the kind of music they play.  This echos our experience in the NYE 2014 show in Raleigh where we had really bad seats in the PNC Arena.   Our experience almost surely would have been better if I had ordered tickets sooner, but then perhaps they should not have played in a venue where bad seats were even possible?

This brings up an interesting question: can a band grow too popular for their ideal venues?  Obviously you'd prefer to see bands in the smallest possible venues.  On the other hand, you can't fault a band for gaining popularity and filling (or nearly so) increasingly larger venues.  But some bands' sound transposes to larger venues with less of a problem.  The Avett Brothers are high energy, and they've slowly accreted band members to help them have a consistently bigger sound, but they're still not really an arena rock band, either in terms of popularity or sound.  Is there an ideal venue size for an indie/folk/roots/country/bluegrass band like the Avett Brothers?  David Byrne in his 2010 TED Talk (transcript) explored the relationship between venue and music, but did not really explore the idea of an optimum venue size for a particular sound.

I could only find a few uploaded videos from the New Mexico show ("Love Like The Movies", "Left on Laura, Left on Lisa", "Laundry Room", "Satan Pulls The Strings", "Murder In The City", "I Wish I Was"), and the quality isn't consistently as good as the NYE show I was able to reconstruct.   So instead, I'll include a professionally recorded show at the 2014 Austin City Limits Festival recorded about four months earlier than the NM show.

The setlist is available for this as well, and it amounts to about an hour of music (shorter than a headliner concert).  I'm not sure if there was more music and it was edited down to an hour, or if their hour simply straddled sunset (the sun appears to go down at the ~45 minute mark).   Apropos to the venue size question above, note at about ~31:50 how Seth leaves the stage and tries to pump up the audience by running around the WWI style trenches that separates the band from the audience.  I get that it's a large, outdoor festival, but that just doesn't seem like the best way to see the Avett Brothers.

Continuing on this theme, here is a short, five song 2015 Austin City Limits TV show appearance where the venue is small and intimate but the audience appears sedated if not fully dead.  Once again it falls to Seth to venture into the crowd and inject some life (~14:20).  Perhaps it is just the nature of TV audiences to be lifeless, cf. my review of  Wire's 1979 concert "On The Box".

In summary, I'm very thankful that in years past we have been able to see the Avett Brothers in the Portsmouth Pavillion, which might be the ideal size (~6500 people) in addition to its absolutely beautiful outdoor location right on the Elizabeth River.  I'm also glad Herbert and Lisa got to see them even though it's not exactly their thing.  So far their tour page doesn't list a return to Portsmouth, but right now there are only a few dates booked for May, June, and July so I would expect more dates to be announced soon.  I'm hoping they return to the area and that we're in town for them (we missed them last year for the 2014 Power Tour).  Between Michele & Chris, Joy, Marilee, and possibly some others we'll be a good chunk of the audience in what might be a perfect venue for them. 

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