The Low Anthem & The Avett Brothers at the House of Blues in Cleveland, OH, 2.27.10

The Low Anthem Setlist
(in no particular order and incomplete)

Cage the Songbird
Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around
To the Ghosts Who Write History Books
This God Damn House
The Horizon is a Beltway
Don’t Let Nobody Turn You ‘Round
Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women

I’ll admit upfront that I have probably been spoiled by seeing some of the best acts around perform in hole-in-the-wall bars – from the Afghan Whigs at the Cactus Club in San Jose, California, to A.A. Bondy at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan – and this probably colors my view of the larger venues, but… I hate the House of Blues. It is partially the odd and claustrophobic layout of the venue and partially the disposition of the clientele. (It doesn’t help that I top out at 5’3″ and since I didn’t get to the sold-out show early enough to be close to the stage, I felt disconnected as I stood behind a wall of people a full head taller than me, affording me only a few glances of certain areas of the stage.)

You have to love the Low Anthem for putting their all into trying to overcome the obstacles. They played with great energy and sweetness and did manage to get the attention of the drunken, gabby audience a couple of times, but there were times when they were almost drown out by the loud talking of the audience amongst itself (one of whom started complaining as soon as the band started into their fourth song and didn’t stop until the band finished their set because “Oh my god, are they playing another song?”).

Still, I was able to hear enough to confirm that Jocie Adams and Ben Knox Miller can both belt out a killer vocal and Jeff Prystowsky has to be the smilingest musician I’ve ever witnessed. The Low Anthem have a good range from deeply pretty to aggressively foot-stomping, which they accomplish through more instrument changes than I’ve ever seen a band make. It’s a shame I couldn’t hear the clarinets they brought out for a couple of songs.

The Avett Brothers setlist
(in no particular order and less woefully incomplete)

Distraction #74
Laundry Room
January Wedding
Murder in the City
Tear Down the House
The Perfect Space
If It’s the Beaches
Where Have All the Average People Gone (Roger Miller cover)
I Would Be Sad
And It Spread
Please Pardon Yourself
Go To Sleep
Famous Flower of Manhattan
Slight Figure of Speech
At the Beach
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise (? – I may just be hallucinating that they played this)

Part of the fun of attending a live show is seeing what’s happening onstage: who’s playing what, who’s whispering to whom, who just took his shirt off, etc. The fact that I could only see half of the Avett Brothers at any given time certainly affected my enjoyment of the show. But, too, the band seemed to have a little less of their famous energy and zeal than I have witnessed in live show videos and were pulling out many of their more sedate songs. Not to say that their performance was poor by any means – the Avetts are consummate professionals in the best sense of the term and they seem to truly love their audience – and the crowd of young devotees in front of me certainly loved it (I enjoyed watching one of them sing along with his eyes closed, looking like every, single word meant something to him), but I just did not feel moved for much of the show.

There were exceptions. “Laundry Room”, for instance, transcended all the issues of the night to be a perfect performance. Scott Avett’s solo delivery of “Murder in the City” was touching. They played my personal favorite, “Colorshow”, which is rousing no matter what. And they put in a great rendition of “Go to Sleep”, with the crowd helping out on the “la la la”s, which closed the pre-encore part of the show.

A sweet note: When the band left the stage, that same group of young devotees in front of me again took up the “la la la”s of “Go to Sleep”, and this spread throughout the venue as the call that brought the band back for their encore.

It was a good show – and we appreciate that the Avetts came through Cleveland when so many roots-based/Americana acts skip Cleveland, and sometimes Ohio, completely – it just wasn’t the banjo-shredding, scream-a-thon I was expecting.

More of my very poor photos from the show can be found at the NTSIB Flickr account.

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