Live Review: The Avett Brothers with Y La Bamba (2012 Vancouver International Jazz Festival) @ The Orpheum Theatre – June 26th 2012

Tuesday night, Portland based Y La Bamba took the stage at the Orpheum for their largest show yet in Vancouver. Having attended their Media Club performance opening for the Lumineers this past April, the grandeur of the Orpheum was quite a leap from the intimacy of the Media Club. Tailoring their sound for the more ornate and spacious environment, as well as the 2000+ guests in attendance, the majority of whom were there to see the headlining act, Y La Bamba chose a set that would provide a taste of their more restrained and dramatic works while still showcasing their beautiful melodies.

To open their set, Luz and Paul, the main singer and guitarist, appeared on stage and began with a new song called Simba. Working through what came off as a shy but excited start, Luz’s voice was immediately inebriating. Right after the end of the first song, the rest of the band quickly took their places for their next song, Ponce Pilato (off their new album “Court the Storm”). In response to the gentle and wonderful opener that caught the audience’s full attention along with the appearance of the band, the audience gave a roaring round of applause that would get louder and more excited after each song.

Despite a couple of very minor technical glitches with the sound, the sextet quickly established their presence on the stage and in the hollow of the Orpheum. Luz’s signature hypnotic dancing and the band’s latin-rooted rhythm was hard to ignore as people throughout the audience began to bob their heads and dance in their seats along to the music. But it must be said that it came to light that the older members of the audience were slipping into the melodies and hypnotic pace of the show much more than their younger counterparts. A good example of this was the bouncing granny in front of me compared to the texting 20-something to my left.

Regardless, YLB had the majority of the crowd applausing loudly and cheering; the band were humbled by the reception and were happy to see that everyone was enjoying the show. They were also impressed by the Orpheum’s grand sound with Ben Meyercord, bassist and vocalist, excitedly saying “I’ve never heard claves sound so good in a room before! Now I’m really excited about playing them in the next song.” I couldn’t agree more that they did sound fantastic in this setting.

Mostly performing songs from their new album “Court The Storm”, YLB switched songs to showcase some older tracks from earlier releases. Although most of the audience probably did not know this, the audience’s reception did not lessen. After a hearty 45-minutes, YLB ended with Juniper, one of their most popular songs from their second release, Lupon. This couldn’t have been a better sign off as this song has always, at least for me, left me craving their sonic embrace. For the many who had never even heard of Y La Bamba before, they were a very pleasant surprise. It is hard not to like such a versatile, dynamic and charming band and they are definitely a group to keep tabs on in the near future. Apparently they will be back in October, again at the Media Club, so don’t miss out on the opportunity!

Next to perform were the headliners, the Avett Brothers. The five piece hailing from North Carolina were apparently very well established because at the instant they set foot on the stage, the audience were screaming with excitement. This may sound strange but I had actually never heard of them but when they exploded into their first song, I understood why they were so popular; and I say exploded because it was an audio and visual assault that they sprang on the audience and it was great.

With stage lights flashing and heavy grooves thumping, it wasn’t long into the second song that the audience stormed the stage, completely overpowering the ushers of the Orpheum, so that they could be in the front and absorbing as much of the band as possible. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many excited people dancing, screaming, and singing along to the band as I had this night. One could compare it to the energy of a southern gospel church with everyone singing and dancing inside and the preacher sweating up a storm and singing from the deepest depths of his soul. Fantastic.

Not knowing the songs of the Avett Brothers, it was hard to decipher what was what. So I took the show in and enjoyed the spectacular of who they were and why everyone loved them as much as they did. After a handful of songs, being the old man I’ve become, I was exhausted by the display. But for having members of all ages present, literally from families with children to couples in their 70’s, it was simply a testament to their accessibility of their sound and showmanship. I wish I could tell you how the show ended but I trust wholeheartedly that it was spectacular and the audience was left far more than satisfied. If they ever roll into town again, I highly suggest that the Avett Brothers be on your list of shows to see. They are not a southern gospel Sunday service but they sure as hell feed your soul enough to feel as though you’re saved.

by Matthew Bowen Saez + Sarah Kitson

Photos of The Avett Brothers © Sarah Kitson

Photos of Y La Bamba © Sarah Kitson