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A four hour drive to London..... watch a band you aren't a great fan of..... a four hour drive back home...... doesn't sound the greatest of ideas admittedly. When a good friend however with a similar passion for music is looking for someone to accompany him on a road trip to see a band he's obsessed with..........well, that's what friends are for. Plus, a gig is a gig, The Shepherds Bush Empire a legendary venue,....... so down the M1 we go. Fortunately, some local knowledge of the motorways system in the South East of England works wonders and we arrive at the venue just after doors at 7.00pm, enabling us to grab front row seats, albeit in our allocated third tier. The vantage point does give a great view of the stage, graced by so many incredible artists, particularly through the Old Grey Whistle Test days, although slightly distanced to obtain decent photographs and video. 

Support is provided by King Charles and band, not the Prince of Wales attempting to usurp his mother under a rock n roll guise, instead a foppish dandy, dressed in period clothes, providing some good guitar work within a sound similar to Ten Pole Tudor or The Levellers. Unfortunately, although quite entertaining, the songs sound familiar, with the King spending as much time flicking his hair away from the guitar neck and hoisting his trousers as actually playing. I'm all for image to ensure an artist stands out, but best made reasonably practical, not a diversion, perhaps investing in a few hair grips and a belt!!

The Empire is solid tonight, completely sold out, a real air of anticipation around the arrival on stage of The Avett Brothers. Although ostensibly a country band, the reason I tend to be less than enamoured, I have to admit I’ve found the last couple of albums more appealing, “Emotionalism” and “I and love and you” containing more heartfelt, deeply personal songs utilising more of a country rock sound, rather than the earlier purer bluegrass aspects.  Furthermore “Live Volume 3” released last year, suggests their stage performances to be manic affairs on occasions. 

Almost on the stroke of 9pm, they take to the stage breaking into “And It Spread” the pure energy surrounding The Avett Brothers immediately apparent. Scott takes centre stage, banjo in hand, Seth stood to his left with guitar, although both include percussion in their armoury, a kick drum and hi-hat stood in front of them. During a large number of the songs, not only do they exhibit more than impressive fret work, also exemplary foot work, Scott in particular on occasions launching himself across the stage in true Paul Scholes style to reach his kick drum, perfect time kept.  The ferocity apparent within the opening track as pedal and hammer part company with the drum well before the conclusion.  I have a distinct feeling the drum tech is probably the busiest of the road crew throughout any gig.The energetic nature of the performance not however confined just to the brothers t, both Bobby Crawford on stand up and electric bass (as we’re reminded on numerous occasions by a (family) member of the audience, screaming his name on regular basis) and perhaps more so Joe Kwon on cello, pogoing around stage for the majority of the performance. Kwon is a revelation, never I have seen a cello played in such an manner, bow dropped to the floor in a couple of instances, instrument turned and used virtually as another guitar.  His sound also irregular, more violin like, suggesting effects are incorporated.

The Avett’s produce a lengthy set running through a selection of songs taken from various stages of their career outlining a range of styles, equally at home with a tender ballad “I and Love and You” a bluegrass hoe-down with “I Killed Sally’s Lover” even a rocked up segue of “Kick Drum Heart/ Colour show” Seth picking up a Telecaster, blasting out power chords in true guitar hero style. A further attribute of The Avett’s, the brothers vocals, complimenting each other perfectly throughout, especially as the lights drop, a single spotlight on the two for a heart achingly gorgeous “When I Drink” also highlighting a sense of humour, Scott’s howling backing vocal providing some light relief. After nearly two hours and into the encore, a storming version of “Talk On Indolence” appears to bring a brilliant gig to an end, although Scott and Seth provide a final twist, huddling around a microphone with Bobby Crawford for an a cappella version of the traditional gospel song “Down to the River to Pray” outlining strong held beliefs and family ties.

As The Avett Brothers take their final bow, the audience go absolutely wild, showing an almost religious fervour for their heroes.  Me.... I started as a sceptic, agnostic to their lure, aware of something, although not sure exactly what.  As they leave the stage, I’m a complete convert to the musical church of Scott and Seth, one of the greatest live acts I’ve ever experienced. Eight hour round trip, completely disorientated for the whole of the next day....whatever...... I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Next time though boys, be aware there is a Northern end of Britain, surely it must be worth exploring outside our capital, I leave Shepherds Bush feeling a real groundswell is building this side of The Atlantic for one of America’s most endearing bands