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Thursday, July 31, 2008

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.



After opening for, and being around those dudes a handful of times, I think I've come to notice that they bring out the best in everyone around them, especially their crowds. I am well aware that not every show of theirs is perfect but, I've certainly witnessed the insta-STFU factor within a gnarly big batch of humans more than a few times at their shows.

Glad Burlington got to witness a little magic...

Hope all is well duder!
(from KHearts..)

Pedro, not Jose

Sir, please know that the reason why the Jose Gonzales show was so noisy was because most of the crowd could not see him perform. When the People pay 17 bucks for a show, they want/need to see the performer play, and unfortunately, this time, Higher Ground provided a chair and not a bar stool for Pepito (the showcase lounge stage is too low for short Argentino sitting on a chair). Even the awesome people, who were there "for the music, man," secretly wanted to see more than just Swedish Joe's mop top. When the People can't see the performer, they lose attention, and start talking (not me, though, I was there for the music, man). A similar thing almost happened at the Devendra Banhart show at the new UVM digs, until the frat boys in the back stepped in (thank god) and made the front-row, feeble vegans (not me, again) sit down at the risk of being eaten. Banhart responded by telling the crowd to "relax" and not to worry - he would soon be getting up from his low-rise chair and ripping off his clothes so everybody could see. So, my point is this: the crowd at the Jose Gonzales show was not a different or more disrespectful crowd than the Avett Brothers crowd - they just couldn't see Jose play, lost attention, and started chatting. They were good people too, I know it. Fuck.


Oops, sorry...I tried to press one and erase that message after I recorded it but I accidentally hung up!


I'm 5'8" (barely) and could see him just fine, "man."


It's kind of disheartening when a crowd is distracted and noisy. I've learned it usually works to play a really quiet song - hopefully the loud talkers will notice they're speaking over the music. When I'm playing I sometimes wonder if I'm not doing enough to engage the crowd, and that's why they're chatting. But, hey - we've all been that loud talker, haven't we? Eh?


I was there for both the Jose and the Avett Brothers shows and there was undoubtably a striking difference between the two crowds. I agree with the guy above, that perhaps it was because most were unable to see Jose. However, it was not HG at fault. Rather, it was a decision made by Jose. I think the only solution would be to ask people to hush down a bit or move up to the very front. I'll admit that your reviews and rambles have rubbed me the wrong way numerous times, but I have to agree with you this time.


Although I am the type of Avett fan who would likely bite you for saying anything negative about them, I am a quiet one. Not having been to a concert in years, I didn't know what to expect from their other fans and found that they were lovely and not at all dangerous, like me. There was no crowding or screaming, as an added bonus, everyone carried a tune nicely when singing along and it wasn't even until the encore that a drunk, overenthusiastic fan sloshed beer in my hair while screaming the lyrics. The Avetts rocked my flip-flops off (literally, as I temporarily lost a Reef from popping off the floor with joy) and the fans made a great show even better.

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