The Ballad of Love and Hate
Shortly after my rant concerning the level of crowd noise at Jose Gonzales' recent Higher Ground performance, I received the following voice mail message (transcribed verbatim):
"Dan, I read the paper all the time. I don't know what was worse, you mentioning Lee "Scratch" Perry throwing you a bone — the guy who invented scratching — or your stupid review of people talking at . . . at the sh . . . at Higher Ground. I don't know what the fuck you expect. But your fuckin' reviews are the worst. I don't know where you get your ideas. Or what the fuck you listen to. But it all sucks."
Oddly enough, our mystery man left no name or phone number. Must have slipped his mind. Well sir, allow me to respond to your query.
Aside from providing more ammo for my theory that the level of a person's intelligence is inversely related to the number of times they errantly use some variation of the word "fuck" in a conversation — and yes, I'm aware the original post was called "Shut The Fuck Up . . . Please." And forget that my rant about talkers at the Jose Gonzalez show was hardly what you'd call a "review" — I couldn't review it because I couldn't really hear it, remember? But it seems exactly the sort of people who would pay 17 bucks to see a show and spend the entire time yakking incessantly have revealed themselves. Sort of. And guess what, folks? They're idiots.
Flash to this past Tuesday's Avett Brothers (pronounced AY-vett) show in the HG Ballroom. I've been a fan since I caught a performance on Conan O'Brien shortly after Emotionalism came out — which I promptly purchased. For those who aren't familiar, the band is essentially an acoustic folk-pop trio, although Emotionalism showcases some beefier arrangements and is a bit electrified. While the presence of of Scott Avett's banjo might lead some to believe they exist on the fringes of newgrass, they're hardly the next Yonder Mountain. To be perfectly blunt, they remind me quite a bit of my old banjo-driven pop band, The Middle 8 — only better. Or, perhaps more accurately, the group that birthed us, The Lazy Songwriter; On record, banjoist Scott Avett bears an honest resemblance to LS front man Arthur Adams (though in concert, Avett eerily reminded me of Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay, another favorite.)
Anyway, I had no real professional interest in the show. I was just going to see a band I really dig. However, I was curious to see what the crowd would be like, especially after my diatribe ended up running in the paper — a fact of which I had no idea at the time. I'm not so delusional as to think the ramblings of one ticked-off small-town music scribe can change the concert-going behavior of the public at large. Still, I've received more feedback on that little nugget than anything I've written since taking the Marathon to task. It's just an aspect of seeing live music I'd never had to give much thought to prior. And this was my first trip back to the scene of the crime.
While HG was far from sold out, the crowd was electric, even mouthing words with tunes from AB's early catalog. From my vantage point, most crowd banter was limited to comments about the show, and usually in between songs.
And the band flat out rocked. I know it's trite to say bands feed off the crowd. But in this case it's appropriate — especially given the number of times guitarist Seth Avett (they're really brothers!) made a point to genuinely marvel at their fawning reception.
As mentioned, The Avett Bros. are an acoustic-pop act. But they also have a definitive punk influence. As such, the majority of their tunes are up-tempo and high energy. More often than not, the crowd would follow suit, dancing and singing — and occasionally screaming — right along. That said, Seth Avett in particular has a knack for heartbreaking, saccharine balladry. In fact, if "The Ballad of Love and Hate" pops up on my iPod, I usually have to skip it or risk tearing up in public. No kidding.
I figured that song might prove the audience's real test. Sure enough, as the lights dimmed following a signature scorcher, and his bandmates left the stage, Seth stepped to the mic and strummed the first chill-inducing (for me, anyway) chords. After a brief "Whoo!" from someone near the back, Higher Ground hushed and for the next 4 minutes, you could have heard a pin drop — or a heart break, I suppose. At the song's conclusion there was a pregnant pause as the crowd stood in awe — or maybe folks just needed a sec to clear the lumps in their throats. And then: arguably the loudest applause of the night.
So that, mystery caller, is "what the fuck I expect." I expect people to go to shows to see and appreciate music, and to respect the right of those around them to listen unmolested — we are largely talking about adults here, by the way. I also expect people to respect the performers and show them at least a modicum of courtesy. Frankly, I don't think it's too much to ask. And when it happens, it makes for one hell of a show.