“We’re really looking forward to True Sadness,” Marty Lennartz said halfway through The Avett Brothers’ Studio X performance at Martyrs’ last Friday, a statement that may have sounded odd to those unaware of the group’s upcoming album title. What’s also odd (aside from the member’s clean shaven appearance) was how the band packed so much punch into songs that are mostly about… well, being sad. On True Sadness it seems as though the sadness is restricted to lyrics, cloaked under energetic and electric instrumentation. “Ain’t No Man,” a funk-folk song and the first single from the unreleased album, had the crowd clapping and stomping along — the catchy backbeat and groovy baseline impossible to ignore.
But, said sadness aside, it is clear The Avett Brothers are excited about what’s to come. The group jumped right into its set before realizing that Lennartz intended to introduce them to the intimate crowd of about 270. “Thank you and goodnight,” Seth Avett joked about the premature start and end to their first song. His sarcastic sense of humor was well on display during the performance, both in his responses during the Q&A as well as in the band’s latest lyrics. On “Smithsonian,” the fourth track off the upcoming album, the group sings with southern twang of basic life realizations, such as finding out “lunch isn’t free.”
But when Seth, or brother Scott, weren’t joking around with Lennartz, they spoke with the utmost sincerity. This switch so apparently flipped when talking about certain subjects, such as Prince (rightfully so) — “It felt very purple” Seth said of the band’s tribute to Prince at their Chicago Theatre show the previous night — and the group’s audience, to which he said they share a “very special connection” with.
The Avett Brothers, both the band and the individual brothers, are very in touch with the beauty and pain of life and their songs often weave the two seamlessly together, as best heard on “All My Mistakes” when the brothers sang, “All my mistakes brought me to you.” The song, which Lennartz described as a “gut punch song,” was the only older track the band played. The rest of the set highlighted unheard tracks off True Sadness. While “Ain’t No Man” and the title track were voluminous and vibrant in sound, “I Wish I Was” the eighth track off the album, was softer and more familiar. “If I get too close, would the magic fade?” Seth searchingly sang. But in such a small space and so up close, the magic felt undeniably strong.