I recently attended an Avett Brothers concert that included Old Crow Medicine Show as the opening act. Both bands were full of frenetic energy and incredible musicianship. Old Crow is one of those bands that for me is much better in live performance where they can move beyond the constraints of a four minute song. They are a great jam band. And its clear they have fun making music. It’s infectious.
Same thing, clearly, could be said of the Avett Brothers. But here’s a big difference. Old Crow’s lyrics were dominated by drugs, drinking, and loose women. In Old Crow songs, the world ultimately exists for their pleasure. Now, I get it that this may be a band persona, or that they might be representing a category of music that has hard living as its theme. But after awhile, their songs made me feel old and responsible.
In contrast, the Avett Brothers sing songs of taking responsibility for their actions. While their more youthful days might be checkered with wilder living, their songs are about being men in a different way than Old Crow’s. In fact, big roars went up from the audience whenever a getting stoned reference was clear. In the same way, the crowd went nuts with the Avett Brothers only reference to getting high. But here the joke was on the audience. As the song told the story, when the drugs came out, that was the time to move on, to say I’m about something else.
It’s a persistent theme in the last three Avett Brothers albums. They sing of the “dream” and of fame as an empty illusion. They sing of their former way of life as uninhabitable for people they love, and, therefore, of a way of life not worth living. They sing about handling fame the way Paul Newman did or having pride the way their momma did, not the kind in the Bible that makes you bad. They even sing about their meaningful songs as “vanity.”
The Avett Brothers have seen the options and have at this point in their life chosen being adults. And they make it look fun.