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SXSW Live Review: Ryan Adams, Avett Brothers at JW Marriott Austin (3/16)

The North Carolina brethren preview new material off True Sadness

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Ryan Adams // Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Photography by Heather Kaplan

    Face it: South by Southwest crowds can be insufferable. It’s an industry event at heart, which is why so many shows typically feature the strangest audiences, from techies to cinephiles to diehard fans to tired musicians. Still, there’s never a reason to be disruptive and obnoxious at a show, especially when you have two veteran titans like Ryan Adams and The Avett Brothers. Alas, the scene at the JW Marriott Austin on Wednesday night was akin to hearing someone vacuuming in the other room.

    “I’m just waiting for you guys to stop networking,” Adams joked early in his headlining set, riffing: “I work for Fuckhead Records, working with this band called the Little Shits, they got a show tomorrow. Got a new album out called, No Restrooms for the Wicked.” Hilarious, on-point, and yet ineffective. All around the hotel’s vacuous ballroom you could hear nonstop chatter and not of the murmuring sort; this was at egregious barroom volumes. To quote Fuller House‘s Stephanie Tanner, “How wude.”

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    Oh, but that’s expected during SXSW, and Adams clearly understood that, maintaining a jovial vibe throughout the night. Even when one fella broke his “No Flash” photo policy, the arcade-loving songwriter turned it into a bit, spitting back: “Dude, look at your jacket. You don’t need a flash. There is no way you’re getting out of this room with that jacket.” He almost didn’t. As a peace offering, the fan gave Adams his cat-embroidered threads, which he wore for a couple of songs before returning it.

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    In hindsight, the insolent chatter and photographers proved to be a blessing in disguise. It’s no secret that Adams’ most irresistible charm is his uncanny sense of humor, and he exudes much of that in his stage banter. Needless to say, he cracked wise left and right, from poking fun at the festival’s historically perverse scheduling (“311 is playing the second level. I know, it’s confusing.”) to semi-philosophical nuggets (“Our love is like a rat tail. It’s got a time and place.”). Those were just a few gems.

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    Ensconced within the comedy was an enviable setlist, featuring a few divine sprinkles, whether it was Demolition cut “Dear Chicago” (“It’s not about Chicago, it’s about the ladies — ladies from the ’80s.”) or a quiet rendition of “My Winding Wheel”, which technically only happened because he had the crowd do a collaborative snake shush. “Snakes,” he mimicked Indiana Jones. “I hate snakes.” He closed the night with a Sabbath-esque rendition of “Peaceful Valley” that lasted for 10 minutes.

    The Avett Brothers, on the other hand, are way too spiritually pleasant to ever call out an audience like Adams. Which, for tonight, was unfortunate since they were actually previewing new material. As Consequence of Sound reported earlier this week, the Carolina brethren will release a new album, True Sadness, come June. Considering this was their first gig since the announcement, they unlocked a handful of tracks off the album, and, truth be told, we’re in for a treat.

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    Popping up between crowd favorites like “Talk of Indolence”, “Die Die Die”, and “Vanity” were fresh ditties: “The Divorce Separation Blues”, “Smithsonian”, “I Wish I Was”, and “True Sadness”. Lyrically, “Divorce” is the strongest, a roadside bluegrass meditation that finds Seth Avett licking his wounds aloud (“I’m gonna keep on living even if I sometimes do fantasize living by the ocean blue”). Throughout, they weave in some yodeling, which had Seth joking after, “Nothin like a good ol divorce yodel.”

    To be fair, “Smithsonian” and “I Wish I Was” aren’t too shabby, either. The former waxes existential, as they sing, “Call the Smithsonian/ I made a discovery/ Life ain’t forever/ And lunch isn’t free.” While the latter gets cozy with its imagery, specifically this line: “I wish I was a flame in a candle/ lighting up your living room.” Beautiful stuff. The title track, however, will prove polarizing, as it’s more or less a slice of alternative rock circa 1995 (think: Shaw Blades’ “My Hallucination”). It’s a twist.

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    One testament to The Avett Brothers’ power is how they don’t need to silence the audience — they do that naturally. By marrying their unrivaled agility with passionate abandon, they turn into a monster outfit that makes folk rock worthy of arenas everywhere. It’s also a team effort — violinist Tania Elizabeth and cellist Joe Kwon are just beasts on stage — even if Seth’s the one jumping into the crowds at the end during “Morning Song”. Having said that, Adams’ heroics will never go unheralded.

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    “Oh, you wanted the crowd-pleasing Ryan Adams show? That’s at another hotel.” No, Mr. Adams, it was this one.

    The Avett Brothers Setlist:
    The D Bag Rag
    Talk on Indolence
    The Divorce Separation Blues
    Live and Die
    Satan Pulls the Strings
    Smithsonian
    Die Die Die
    Murder in the City
    I Wish I Was
    Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise
    Ain’t No Man
    Vanity
    Country Blues (Dock Boggs cover)
    True Sadness
    Morning Song

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    Ryan Adams Setlist:
    Gimme Something Good
    Let It Ride
    Stay with Me
    Dirty Rain
    Dear Chicago
    This House Is Not for Sale
    Everybody Knows
    My Winding Wheel
    Magnolia Mountain
    New York, New York
    Kim
    Cold Roses
    When the Stars Go Blue
    Peaceful Valley

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