Seeing the Avett Brothers perform live is a meditation of sorts — afterwards you’ll feel a gravitation pull to call your mother, compliment a stranger or maybe resolve any pending feuds. It’s one part presentation of musical genius, one part spiritual reinvigoration. At Jones Beach this past week, the sibling duo fluctuated between head-banging rock to existential ballads as the sun set in the background.
The Avett Brothers are two boys from backwoods North Carolina who still live a few blocks away from their parents. One is constantly wearing a play on a cowboy hat, the other has braids down to his sternum. But they’re also produced largely by music mogul Rick Rubin. One of the most influential directors of our time Judd Apatow asked to make a documentary about their lives. They’re guys who simultaneously embody Hollywood and the country; it’s mildly confusing but extremely successful. This strange dichotomy leads to a perfectly well-executed display of folk masterpieces. I mean, not every act could pull off using a cello solo to hype up a crowd. Yet these guys do, and they have been for almost two decades.
The key to these guys’ success is their magnetic energy. They’re irresistibly charming, the kind of band you watch perform and then say to the person next to you, “I want to be friends with them.” This almost tangible energy manifests in a whole lot of stage movement. The elder brother, Scott, is the human equivalent of a staccato note, constantly reaching surprising heights as he catapults his body into the air. Meanwhile, younger brother Seth’s head acts as a pendulum, with his horizontal movement helping hit his solo’s peaks.
This high-energy magnetism is largely driven by Scott’s energizer bunny-like, utterly genuine presence. A few songs into the show, the brothers paused to introduce the other members of the band. In a pitch that only dolphins can hear, Scott squealed into the crowd, demanding a show of love for long-time bassist Bobby Crawford. The two giggled at each other like little girls on the playground as Crawford proceeded to shred on his upright bass. Later, in the slow-building hit “Laundry Room,” Scott slowed down the verse and in a speak-song, contemplative tone said, “Last night I dreamt the whole night long, and I woke with a head full of songs.” He looked up at the sky and said, seemingly to himself, “That’s every night.”
The brother’s closed the show with “No Hard Feelings,” a meditation on life, love and death. It’s a tranquil yet melancholic song, something that I imagine I would listen to after the passing of a loved one or in a moment of great change. A song that will make you feel how relatively small your troubles are and reevaluate what’s truly important in life. The song came to end as Seth slowly crooned “I have no enemies,” the only other sound being the ebb and flow of waves against the adjacent shore. With the the sounds of the final chord radiating over the crowd, the audience took a deep, collective sigh, feeling the weight of the lyrics hang in the air.