Younge took the Fresh Air route, and I can’t resist taking a quick detour to say that there’s something phenomenal about the way Fresh Air host and executive producer Terry Gross interacts with people.
Being a dutiful son of two college-teaching Democrats, I skate to one song and one song only on the drive to work each morning: Morning Edition. As much as I love listening to music in the car, NPR has a choke hold on my early-morning airtime. OK, so I change the channel like 2 seconds into the semiannual fund drives. Everyone has a breaking point, alright? Point is that I spend a LOT of time with Steve Inskeep and Renée Montagne, and as far as morning routines go, I’m pretty happy with this one. But now that the election is over, and my at-times-unhealthy appetite for political coverage is sated, I’ve been doing some thinking… is this really the best soundtrack for my ride to work?
Some people were blessed with the gift of foresight — “planners” I hear they’re called. I am not one of those people, which is why it’s a minor miracle that I got to see Megafaun this past Thursday. Early last week, my wife and I were a few days away from hopping on a 737 bound for Portland, OR (By “bound for Portland,” I mean bound for Houston, then Portland. I’m pretty sure Lewis and Clark took the same route.), when I did something so out of character, I’m surprised my wife didn’t accuse me of being involved in a Face/Off-style government plot — I checked to see what concerts would be happening while we were in town. It seems so simple, yet I can assure you, this was an evolutionary leap on par with the use of perspective in Renaissance painting and the special effects from Jurassic Park. The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey should have been playing in the background as I looked online at venues’ websites and saw that Megafaun would be rocking the Doug Fir Lounge the evening after we flew in to PDX. This was very exciting news. I started learning about the North Carolina-based roots rock band over the past few months from Bon Iver’s glowing tweets about them, and I finally heard their music when it was featured on a recent episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered. I’ve had their self-titled album in heavy rotation ever since, but Thursday night’s performance was even better than I could have hoped. Amidst the backdrop of a super cool basement lounge that felt like a cross between a ski lodge and a woodsy version of Dr. Evil’s hollowed-out volcano lair, Megafaun put on a performance that made me and my wife fans for life. I’m a sucker for well-executed harmonies, and I was in the right place, as all four members of the band contributed to one sweet sounding vocal arrangement after another, culminating in their a cappella performance above of “Second Friend.” I may not have been blessed with the planner gene, but I felt truly blessed to have been at Doug Fir on Thursday night, and I’m definitely going to make a habit of checking for concerts before I head on vacation. Check out “Second Friend” above, hear the album version below, and buy their amazing self-titled album here.
Driving up Staples Mill yesterday, I caught an unfamiliar time-chunk (I believe that’s the technical term for it) of NPR, and I heard something that didn’t fully hit me until I was halfway through last night’s Avett Brothers concert at the Charlottesville Pavilion. It came from an interview that cellist Clancy Newman did with Performance Today for their series about how musicians practice. Newman said sitting down to play his cello is so sacred that he never practices with scales or exercises, only pieces of music that carry “emotional meaning.” In that way, he can be sure that each of his performances will tap into his passion and his instrument’s emotive power. At first it seemed a little over the top… until I watched Joe Kwon. Kwon is the cellist for the Avetts, and he is not your average sit-and-stay cellist. He spent all of last night’s show upright and dancing, playing with his cello tucked under his chin as he accumulated broken strands at the end of his bow. It was a sight to behold, not just because of the difficulty involved, but because his eyes-closed, engulfed-in-the-music passion couldn’t be constrained by a chair, or a space, or the tensile strength of horsehair (Really? They still use actual horsehair for bows? That seems weird. I also feel, as a former A-HEM [straightens tie] middle school violinist, I should have known that without asking Wikipedia.) You could see the same quality in Scott Avett, whose deluge of enthusiasm is too much for a single instrument (he often pounds a kick drum as he strums his banjo) and in Seth Avett, who moved with every beat of every song, played his acoustic guitar like the strings would never snap (two did during the course of the evening), and absolutely screamed select song lyrics along with his brother. The two frontmen even did a short set around a single microphone, without any other amplification, as if the sound system itself could not conduct all of their musical energy. It was a phenomenal display, and it helped me understand what Clancy Newman meant in his interview. For Newman, it’s careful reverence. For the Avetts, it’s unbridled irreverence. But the Avett Brothers scream, play cello and pound on deconstructed drum sets with the same passion that’s so strong in Clancy Newman that he doesn’t even want to touch his instrument sometimes. That is such a beautiful thought, and it was a true gift to see it come to life before my eyes last night. One song the Avett Brothers played that I think embodies this thought particularly well is “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” from their latest album I and Love and You. Listen to the song below, and grab the album here.