Concert Review

The Avett Brothers Were an Aggro Antidote at Innings Festival

The Avett Brothers perform songs from their album I and Love and You on Home Plate Stage.
The Avett Brothers perform songs from their album I and Love and You on Home Plate Stage. Kelsee Becker
There's something different about the Avett Brothers.

In the early aughts, the North Carolina-rooted neo-folk act took off, with Southern-tinged rock songs, a pair of long-haired brothers worth swooning over, and lyrics that inspired, depending on your mood, both tears and eye rolls. Though they predated and outlived it, the Avett Brothers rode into the mainstream on a post-Fleet Foxes wave of major label acts who drew on folk traditions, dabbled in twang, and knew Music From Big Pink in and out.

But unlike hitmakers Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and assorted suspender-wearing bands with everybody-now choruses, the Avetts carved a distinct knot among the overly styled set. With brothers Seth and Scott at the center, they built a fanbase on two things: delivering a well-crafted, high-energy live show and being helplessly likable.

Saturday night's headlining set at the Innings Festival proved no exception.

Along with Tania Elizabeth, Mike Marsh, Joe Kwon, and Bob Crawford, the brothers took the main stage at the baseball-themed music festival around 10 p.m. for a two-hour set.

This band has released four live records for a reason. They know how to put on a show.
In contrast to Queens of the Stone Age's headlining Friday set and the crowd's overarching alpha dude vibe, the Avett's performance put gentility and sensitivity at the fore.

Nobody was on edge wondering whether a photographer might be kicked in the face. Instead, the first words they uttered were "Thank you kindly," after Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell introduced the band — and said he hoped to see this crowd again at next year's festival.

Amid the jammy, Rick Rubin-approved rockers, a couple of things became clear.

First, that borderline aggro baseball guy energy didn't have a place in the spotlight here. When the screen next to the stage flashed scenes of the crowd, they were mostly women.

Front and center, they sang along to the sprawling set, beginning with "Die Die Die," a jaunty song about existentialism, and wrapping with an encore that included a cover of George Michael's "Faith," a bop that's low-key about consent.

click to enlarge The Avett Brothers perform to a massive crowd Saturday evening. - KELSEE BECKER
The Avett Brothers perform to a massive crowd Saturday evening.
Kelsee Becker
A cynic might posit that they took to heart a 30 Rock plot line where an executive invents "porn for women." It's a video recording of a recurring dreamboat character facing the camera and saying things like "clearly she's jealous of you" and "well, it's his loss." In between, he pauses and gives nonverbal cues that he is listening intently.

But imagining that the Avett Brothers would ask how your day was — and then have thoughtful follow-up questions — doesn't feel so far-fetched.

Second, and by extension, this band's exceptionalism seems rooted in their nature. They've endured because they aren't pretending. They are gracious but not syrupy, charming but not smarmy. It would be too impossible a charade to uphold. All the words that jump to mind in describing the Avett Brothers' energy and lyrics — delicate, emotional, open — speak to their just-plain niceness.

You can't help but root for 'em.

That nature is explored extensively in May It Last, Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio's new HBO documentary that chronicles the making of the Avetts' ninth studio album, True Sadness. In it, Seth and Scott's dynamic of earnestness is laid bare.

click to enlarge The Avett Brothers perform hits including "Die Die Die." - KELSEE BECKER
The Avett Brothers perform hits including "Die Die Die."
Kelsee Becker
It comes through live, too. They feel their feelings. They romanticize Brooklyn with starry eyes, reference the interiority of "the kingdom of God," and cover "I Shall Be Released." They sing about life and love and death without varnish.

Yes, it can be a little much. Avett songs like "Kick Drum Heart" and "I and Love and You" landed on emotionally draining TV shows including One Tree Hill and Parenthood because they aren't afraid of precision sincerity. But it's also made the Avett Brothers into a lovable neo-folk mainstay that challenges notions about masculinity.

No pretension. No aggression. No scuzz. Just proficient musicianship, a lot of good songs, and, yeah, a couple of questionable hats.

It wasn't the raging and rollicking some Innings attendees wanted out of a Mill Avenue-adjacent Saturday night in Tempe. But it was a perfectly delightful Avett Brothers concert.

"Die Die Die"
"True Sadness"
"Laundry Room"
"Old Joe Clark" (traditional)
"Satan Pulls the Strings"
"Morning Song"
"Kick Drum Heart"
"Just Be Simple" (Jason Molina cover)
"I Wish I Was"
"Ain't No Man"
"At the Beach"
"Go to Sleep"
"The Prettiest Thing" (David Childers & The Modern Don Juans cover)
"Live and Die"
"Murder in the City"
"I Shall Be Released" (Bob Dylan cover)
"Slight Figure of Speech"
"I And Love And You"

"Faith" (George Michael cover)
"Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise"
"No Hard Feelings"

Critic's Notebook
Last Night: The Avett Brothers headlined Saturday night at the 2018 Innings Festival.

The Crowd: Women who made shoe choices so poor that they ended up walking barefoot. Aggressive "indie rock" bros in tank tops and Keep Calm and Chive On shirts (seriously). Tempe music lifers. People who don't know how to act. And drunk guys who could not fathom why I would not give them a high five.

"Let's hear it for all the great things happening in this country today." The Avetts are down with the March for Our Lives, y'all.

Random Notebook Dump
: This set was such a relief after dealing with the barrage of really annoying people attending this festival.

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version to include the setlist.
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski