"This has been an interesting show, I feel like I’ve learned so much," Scott Avett announced toward the end of the Avett Brothers' set Wednesday night at New York City's McKittrick Hotel. The show was a taping for PBS’s Front and Center and provided a rare intimate setting for a band as they performed for a small group at what was essentially a hotel bar. The group took the moment to preview a slew of tracks from their new album Magpie and the Dandelion (out October 15th). Struggling with one's own sincerity has been a source of recurring tension in much of the Avett Brothers' greatest material, and the new songs provided a fresh take on that theme. "I've got love pouring out of my veins, but it's all vanity," Seth Avett sang during "Vanity," in a telling shout of self-doubt and struggle.
Earlier in the night, Scott echoed his brother's insecure lack of emotion during the gorgeous, new tune "Morning Song," singing "It's alright if you finally stop caring, just don't go and tell someone that does." The performance reinforced the notion that for a band whose closest mainstream contemporaries prioritize the importance of earnest expression, the most interesting conflict in the Avett Brother's music is this sense of struggle and worry over one's own fragile sincerity.
When the North Carolina group wasn't leaning on, or learning from, the delicate introspection of its new material, it relied on traditional harmony and ancient melody to do the teaching. The band shifted between American music preservationists, touching on gospel during "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," traditional folk in "Shady Grove" and the traditional-leaning country of David Childers' "Prettiest Thing." They looked newly inspired and rejuvenated by their traditional roots.
Midway through the show, Scott paused for a brief moment of reflection. "This is very fun for us, to be playing in a room like this," he said, less amazed by the night's intimacy than by the fact that playing in such a room was now considered novel. "We played one time at [Lower East Side bar] Arlene's Grocery, there was probably one person watching us," he recalled. They then began "A Father's First Spring," a calm, sweet recent tune about newfound parenthood, and for just a quick moment, the Avett Brothers' self-awareness seemed blissfully resolved.
"Live and Die"
"Old Joe Clark"
"Down With the Shine"
"Another Is Waiting"
"Go to Sleep"
"Ballad of Love and Hate"
"Just a Closer Walk With Thee"
"Apart From Me"
"A Father's First Spring"
"I and Love and You"
"Murder in the City"
"If It's the Beaches"
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