REVIEW: The Avett Brothers at Hill Auditorium

Avett Bros at Portland, OR
Avett Bros at Portland, OR

The same place where Robert Frost recited his poetry 51 years ago and Jerry Garcia led the Grateful Dead, Scott and Seth Avett stepped onto Hill Auditorium’s stage on February 12 to play a nearly sold out show.

The Avetts, with Joe Kwon on cello and Bob Crawford on upright bass, stood on oriental rugs facing an audience of close to 3,300. When you’re a four-piece indie folk-rock band from North Carolina, what’s your next move?

True, the modest-mannered band didn’t play in the Big House, but Hill Auditorium is the Big House for music on campus. And bands like the Avett Brothers, who perform their music with the utmost sincerity, almost always require a small venue. Or, at least that’s what I thought.

With a humble guitar and banjo, beneath tranquil lights, the Avetts began playing “Down With the Shine” from their new album, The Carpenter. It was lovely. It was peaceful. They played “Will You Return.” My feelings didn’t change; I was relaxed, enjoying the music.

And then came the “La da, la da da’s,” both from Seth and Scott, but from the audience, as well. “Do not sing if you don’t want to!” Scott yelled. People sang louder, so he repeated himself. “Don’t sing! Especially if you don’t want to!” The more he said it, the more “la da, la da da’s” came from the mouths of people sitting next to me and behind me and in front of me.

Atmosphere and audience engagement are a big selling point for me when I go to a live show, and if you manage to persuade 3,000+ people in the same room to sing, clap their hands to a beat, stomp their feet to the rhythm, and bounce their heads, then that’s something indescribable. That’s music, that’s magic.

The Avett Brothers played other songs as Joe Kwon made terrifying faces with his cello and Seth Avett waltzed around the stage with his guitar. Scott fluttered back and forth between his banjo and the piano. There was a lot of jumping up and down from band members. They played “Head Full of Doubt” with appalling energy (I’ve never seen someone bounce and dance as much as Seth Avett onstage), as well as “Laundry Room” – my favorite Avett Brothers song.

After bluegrass jam sessions that made me anxious because I couldn’t get up and dance, Scott Avett took the stage solo, with just a guitar. He played a song I didn’t know – “Murder in the City” – with such elegance that after my heart was racing from such exciting music played beforehand, I didn’t know what to do with myself besides listen to the beautifully crafted lyrics. In such simple words, the Avett Brothers manage to tell heartbreaking stories: “A tear fell from my fathers eye/I wondered what my dad would say/He’d say I love you and I’m proud of you both/In so many different ways.”

The band was clearly deflated from such an energetic opening thirty minutes, but they carried the show eloquently, all the way through their four-song encore. When they left the stage, they did so bashfully, modestly, waving and smiling, because the night before, they’d be on Late Show with David Letterman, and Ann Arbor would just be another place they had 3,300 people on their feet to hear the two brothers from North Carolina strum on their instruments.

Setlist 2/12/13

  1. Down With the Shine
  2. Will You Return
  3. Go to Sleep
  4. 74
  5. At the Beach
  6. Geraldine
  7. Head Full of Doubt
  8. Live and Die
  9. Paranoia
  10. Laundry Room
  11. Old Joe Clark
  12. Through My Prayers
  13. Murder in the City
  14. Ballad
  15. Father’s First Spring
  16. Living of Love
  17. Buck Owens
  18. Slight Figure
  19. Kickdrum
  20. Michigan
  21. ILY

Carpenter, Indolence, Rollin’ My Sweet Baby’s, Shady Grove

PREVIEW: The Avett Brothers at Hill Auditorium

The Avett Brothers are looking to conquer a college town, where folk music thrives just as well as hip-hop, and avid music fans search actively for gorgeous storytelling via guitars, pianos, and graceful lyrics.

So, it’s fitting that Hill Auditorium will showcase the four-piece band on February 12.

With brothers Scott and Seth Avett fronting the band holding a banjo and guitar, the passion for genuine, heartfelt music lies very visibly in its band make-up. A band of siblings hasn’t seemed particularly cool since the Jackson 5 or the Kinks, and the Avett Brothers present themselves with a similar sincerity and grassroots wholesomeness. Their songs are particularly hopeful and earnest, typically casting a balladic piano at the forefront, and guitar, banjo, cello, and drums accompanying vocals.

Leaving an outstanding 2012 including a Grammy nomination and a top-10 album, the band is touring until July 2013, playing alongside bands like Matt and Kim, Old Crow Medicine Show, Portugal. The Man, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Their show at Hill Auditorium will beautifully highlight the band’s sound described by the San Francisco Chronicle as having the “heavy sadness of Townes Van Zandt, the light pop concision of Buddy Holly, the tuneful jangle of the Beatles, the raw energy of the Ramones.” This is the Avett Brother’s third time performing in Ann Arbor after headlining the Ann Arbor Folk Festival last year and playing at the Michigan Theater in 2010.

The Avett Brothers will play at 7:30pm at Hill Auditorium on February 12, 2013. Tickets start at $33.

REVIEW: Women’s Glee Club Fall Concert

In my philosophy class recently, I learned about the difference between what is “beautiful” and what is “sublime.”

Imagine the compactness of a flower bed: how intricate each flower is, how symmetrical and harmonious nature can be, and how it’s hard not to smile when we see something as simply wonderful as a flower bed. This is beauty.

The sublime, on the other hand, is something grandiose that provokes emotions of grandeur and magnificence. To see something sublime is to feel slightly terrified of its power. What’s best about these definitions is that feelings of the splendid sublime are pervaded with beauty.

Saturday night at Hill Auditorium, I felt the sublime pervaded with beauty. As the members of the Women’s Glee Club walked onstage singing “Tshotsoloza,” a South African song about a train, the beauty of vocal contrasts dwelled in my ears. The acoustics in that place are near perfect, I’m sure you’ve heard, but there’s nothing better than having a musical group use that to their benefit. The layering of the vocals never ceases to astound me, especially with a unisex singing group. I’ve never understood vocal workings myself – soprano, tenor, bass, etc., so I say with great modesty that the Women’s Glee Club fused voices mellifluously.

Beyond the singing, the first half of the concert was spent reminiscing on their trip to South Africa. Pictures and videos brought life to the stories the members told, but nothing told their story better than the songs. “Voici le printemps, mon cousin,” a Belgian song sung in French that was introduced to them by the Belgian glee club, posed a stark contrast to the other tribal-sounding songs from South Africa. Even “Ngana,” an Australian song, blended more with the South African songs.

The song “Homeland” stuck out to me as both sublime and beautiful. The solos were beautiful, undoubtedly, showcasing individual voices that meld into the group. However, during crescendos, the feeling was sublime – my heart and ears swelled with the group’s voices. The piano was not cumbersome and accompanied the club perfectly. Naturally, the placement of such a climactic and emotional song fit incredibly in their song-list.

The Women’s Glee Club entirely outdid themselves on Saturday night. With the anecdotal first half of South Africa, and a second half highlighted with instruments and soloists, the club put on an utterly sublime and beautiful show.

PREVIEW: Women’s Glee Club Fall Concert

From Johannesburg, to Cape Town, and back to Ann Arbor, the Michigan Women’s Glee Club hopes to share their summer experience through a musical facet in their upcoming fall concert.

The Glee Club spent the summer in South Africa, performing in four concerts and experiencing a unique culture and beautiful landscape unlike Ann Arbor’s. The club didn’t only learn about African culture, however. They encountered other choirs from New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, and California – the other four choirs who participated in the Ihlombe! Choral Festival from Classical Movements. The club’s blog from the trip can be found through this link:

The fall concert will highlight multiple pieces learned in South Africa, both native South African songs, as well as others learned from other touring choirs. The club will perform a song in Maori, an aboriginal New Zealand language, which is communicated through both sign language and song. Other pieces include a Belgian song performed in French, and an Australian piece called “Ngana,” which has an aggressive, funky sound. Listen for “Homeland,” a strong and emotionally-driven song about what it means to call a place home.

The club will be performing on Saturday, November 10 in Hill Auditorium at 8:00pm. Tickets are $5 for students.

REVIEW: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

With his hair piled atop his head, an unkempt beard, and 12 other band members, Alex Ebert bounded on stage; his hands drew unknown figures in the air as the drum beat for “40 Day Dream” reverberated off the walls of Royal Oak Music Theatre. The whole band then launched into the heart of the song with such inexorable thirst for music, the entire audience was dancing whether they were aware of it or not. The band, even recorded, makes clear what audience they aim to speak to. But on stage, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros made clear that Tuesday night was for the dreamers and the lovers.

After their first four songs knocked down the majority of their hits (“40 Day Dream,” “Man on Fire,” “Jangling,” and “That’s What’s Up”), ESM0s quickly mellowed. The feeling of a festival or circus didn’t necessarily leave the venue; rather it was suppressed for a few songs until “I Don’t Wanna Pray.” The Magnetic Zeros consisted of a sprawling 13 members, led by Ebert and Castrinos, and featured a wide array of instruments from accordion to trumpet to upright bass. Playing unmistakably buoyant music full of hopeful messages (as well as transcendentalist images), it seemed hard for the band members not to have a blast on stage – Ebert admitted, “I want to…but I have to be a rock star. I can’t smile.”

What seemed most impressive on Ebert’s part was his interaction with the audience. Whether he was dancing or bouncing or singing, he made an effort to connect with those in the front of the crowd by holding hands, hugging, and during “Home,” offering the microphone to those who had something to say. Whatever physical or social barrier there was between audience and band quickly melted away so that we were less spectators than a bunch of people enjoying love-filled songs.

Perhaps the band received such positive energy because the opener, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, failed to deliver anything more creative than lyrics such as, “Satan, Satan, Satan/Satan, Satan, Satan.” Their driving bass line and high-pitched synths proved less than impressive after several songs obeyed the same form. Plus, for an audience expecting fun folk-rock, we struggled to warm up to a heavy electronic-based indie band.

Thankfully, the hippie gypsy-crew of the Magnetic Zeros saved the night by reminding us of the pure joy of music. Ask anyone – the old man sitting next to me who claimed he loved Edward Sharpe and Pitbull, the countless men sporting wild beards, or the couple who ballroom-danced the whole night – if they could stop themselves from singing, dancing, or smiling throughout the two-hour show. I’ll bet their response will be something in the vein of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ lyrics: “Only one desire/that’s left in me/I want the whole damn world/to come dance with me.”

PREVIEW: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Several years ago, Alex Ebert was lost and confused; previously a hard-partying member of the band Ima Robot, he left the band, broke up with his girlfriend, moved from his house and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. That was when Edward Sharpe, a messianic figure sent down to earth to heal mankind, was born.
The band was created by Ebert after he sketched out the character of Edward Sharpe and met Jade Castrinos in downtown L.A. Shortly after, they began touring the country in a giant white bus, meeting fellow musicians and having them join for the adventure. Besides for singing songs about 40 day dreams, setting your spirit free, and celebrating life, the band also loves charismatically dancing around stage, creating a cinematic experience while belting out gospel-like vocals. Their most popular song, “Home,” is often performed while Ebert and Castrinos joyfully jump up and down – Ebert usually clad in all-white.
After a cancellation of their May 29 show, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will be playing September 25 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. The small venue will not only showcase their fun, quirky, and hippie-esque performances, but the theatre is perfect for their exuberant and layered sound.
Tickets can be purchased through the following link: