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Righting the wrong impression

Avett Brothers, Secret Machines rock Echo Project



It wasn't long after I started work here at CL that The Avett Brothers' latest disc, Emotionalism, hit my desk. On first listen, I thought, "Folk music. Not bad. Why do people make such a big deal about them?"

I tossed it aside not thinking too much of it. A couple of months back, I took a second listen -- skipping around the 14 tracks -- and my opinion hadn't changed. "Good music, but just another folk band ..."

Last week (Oct. 12-14), I went to the inaugural Echo Project, a three-day music festival along the lines of Bonnaroo, outside of Atlanta. On Saturday, I made sure The Avett Brothers were marked on my schedule. While I wasn't crazy about the album, I had heard they put on a good live show. And, after all, they were the only locals at the show.

So, the afternoon rolls around, and the band walks out to a sparse setup and starts to play. The first words in my head, as I sat taking photos from the photo pit, were, "Holy shit!" as my jaw dropped.

I probably use the words "high energy" too often, but this is one case where they definitely ring true. The Avett Brothers' live show is musical lightning. The vocals are soaked with emotion, the music, while simple, is played with so much gusto and foot-stomping pride that the audience can only hope to escape its grasp.

You just have to sit and stare in awe at times. Kick drums thump, feet stomp, guitars are held high, strummed, hammered, slapped and played in every way possible. You hear hints of it on the album -- "Paranoia in Bb Major" -- but it doesn't come close to matching the electricity on stage.

I'm listening to the album again while I write this column and find it interesting that the studio work is so much more toned down than the live show. Not to say it's bad, but it just has a different vibe to it. Makes me wonder how long it will take for a live album to get released, if they haven't already.

When the band comes back to Charlotte for their Dec. 31 show ... well, it'll be a hell of a way to ring in the New Year.

THE SECRET'S OUT: Before Friday night, I had never seen The Secret Machines live – they were one of a handful of acts I knew that I had to check out. Founding band member Benjamin Curtis has left the band, but his brother, Brandon, is still there, as is drummer Josh Garza. Phil E. Karnats is currently filling in on guitar and, after seeing the show at Echo, I hope he stays. The trio played with a fury, opening with "Sad and Lonely" off of their debut, Now Here is Nowhere, and tore it up for more than an hour on the small stage. It sounded like old Pink Floyd --mostly instrumental and psychedelic. Half way through the set, steam could be seen rising off Garza's head and visible breath puffed out with each sung lyric or heavy-handed guitar riff. At the end, the small audience who braved the cold weather chanted for "one more song," but were denied.

NOT A BAD START: As for the Echo Project itself, while attendance was less than stellar (organizers say the numbers were around 15,000) it wasn't bad. There was room to move around and the crowds in front of the stages were open enough to get a good spot for most shows. While neighbors have posted on a variety of blogs and forums that they weren't happy with the noise, they can't complain that it ended at 2 a.m. I mean, it could have been worse – Bonnaroo went until 4 a.m. on some nights. While there were booths and information available for environmental causes, you had to search for them. An idea for next year, if it happens again, would be to mention something before the bands begin or have someone talk while the stage is being set up.

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