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Avett Brothers at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver

Avett Brothers concert photo

The Avett Brothers at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 16 2010. Megan Chursinoff photo

Review–Avett Brothers at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival June 26th, 2012

– review by Ria Nevada

Trust the Vancouver International Jazz Festival to bring in some of the most unique and talented musicians to our city every year. That was the lesson learned from last night’s Avett Brothers and Y La Bamba show at the Orpheum.

Folk revivalists Y La Bamba eased into the unforgettable evening with a duet between vocalists and guitarists Luz Elena Mendoza and Paul Cameron. Initially, they looked like they would be swallowed up by the immaculate venue.

Mendoza let a “sorry” slip out after their first couple of bars for missing a note on the modest number. But her nerves quickly left the room and the audience soon bore witness to one of the most eclectic and special performances that stage has ever seen.

Mendoza’s voice combined the soulful and earthy tones of contemporary singers like Leslie Feist and Nicole Atkins with the animated phrasing and control of the legendary Edith Piaf. The duo shortly expanded into a six-piece that included Ben Meyercord on bass, Michael Kitson and Scott Magee on percussion, and Eric Schrepel on accordion.

Tracks like “Squawk” and “Bendito” from Y La Bamba’s second full-length Court The Storm fused Latin rhythms, baroque drama and imagery, and Southern blues riffs. The diversity in their arrangements and their pitch-perfect five part harmonies left practically every member in the audience spellbound.

Y La Bamba publicity image

Y La Bamba.

After their jaw-dropping display, I almost feared that Y La Bamba would overshadow their critically acclaimed headliners. But the Avett Brothers delivered an absolutely enthralling set that put my worries at bay. The exuberant siblings from North Carolina (both missing their trademark full beards but still sporting some scruff and a ‘stache) were greeted by uproarious cheering before they even touched their instruments.

Scott Avett immediately picked up his banjo, plucking the jaunty riff of “And It Spread” as younger brother Seth belted out the rowdy number. Their vigor lit a fire under half the crowd’s asses and catapulted them towards the stage for the even speedier “Talk On Indolence”, evoking the rebellious and rambunctious spirit of fellow eclectic neo-punk acts like The Racontuers, O’Death and Titus Andronicus.

Fans of all ages and interest groups looked exhausted just trying to keep up with the brothers shuffling and gliding all over the stage. Their supporting band members were possessed by the same zeal.

Double bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon swung their behemoth instruments around as they delivered grounded and hearty melody lines to the propulsive tracks. Jacob Edwards probably would have joined the hyperactive hoedown as well if he didn’t have to be planted behind his drumset.

Scott and Seth would trade off on lead vocals throughout the night, depending on the nature of the song. Country-blues ballads like “January Wedding” and “Bella Donna” benefited from Seth’s gentle tone, bluesy runs and higher range.

Scott patted Seth on the back and walked away from their shared microphone and spotlight on the latter number, making sure his brother was given all the praise and attention he deserved. The theme of familial love was further meditated upon in “Murder In the City” as Scott sang in his baritone, “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing, like the love that let us share our name”.

As the night progressed, audience members grinned ear-to-ear during the brothers’ romantic waltzes, and swayed to their blues riffs. But when Avetts were at their best, singing lyrics like “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die”, they put their fans in the perfect position to be creatively and spiritually inspired.

Sorry you missed Y La Bamba? The band returns to Vancouver to play the Media Club Oct 26. Go here for tickets.

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