I’ve had a little bit of a difficult time encapsulating the recent run of Avail shows in any sort of meaningful way that wasn’t just endless, rambling gushing. I think that, to a lot of people in the “just-turned-40” age bracket Avail’s extended absence from the scene was for us what the prolonged Jawbreaker hiatus was for people 5-10 years older than us; the untimely “demise” of a band that didn’t fit into it’s own genre, played by its own set of rules, inspired a bit of hope for the underdog, and never really got its due credit until it seemed clear that they weren’t coming back.
But then, after a dozen years, they came back; first with a couple of rapidly-sold-out shows in their hometown of Richmond, VA, then with a small handful of club shows and festival appearances throughout the late summer. When the Boston date, September 8th, was announced, it seemed at first too good to be true; yours truly turned “the big 4-0” the day before the show. In fact, it was too good to be true for a little while; tickets to the gig at the 1000-ish capacity Royale sold out quickly, though where there’s a will, there’s always a way (thanks, Naim!). The days and weeks leading up to this run of shows led to more than a few “wait, is this really happening?!?” conversations with friends who were lucky enough to secure their spots at some of the small handful of shows on this run.
Even from the time doors opened for last Sunday’s Boston gig, there was still a bit of a surreal feel in the air, though admittedly the tone had shifted from “wait, is this really happening?!?” to “wait, this is really happening!!!”. By the time I got in to the venue, about ten/fifteen minutes after doors, a line had already formed at the merch stand that, well, included the majority of the people that were inside. And honestly, throughout the majority of the night, the line never really died down; a seemingly endless stream of revelers hoping to claim their little piece of memorabilia to mark the noteworthy occasion (shout-out to Angie Cooper for handling that merch line solo and like a boss all night).
Local openers Tied To A Bear kicked off the evening’s festivities, and I immediately began kicking myself for not having seen them sooner. They’ve been around for a hot minute, and while I’ve caught a handful of the TTAB-adjacent groups like Choke Up and Jeff Rowe on occasion, this was somehow the first time I’d had the opportunity to catch them live. Holy hell, they’re a great band: tight, uptempo, angular, melodic, anthemic singalongs in spades. If you haven’t heard their latest, True Places, yet do yourself the favor.
Angel Du$t provided direct support on this show as they did on each of the four dates of this brief Northeast run. I’d seen the Baltimore-based quintet a number of years ago opening a run of H2O shows and, well, I’m not the biggest hardcore fan in the world. I remember it seeming like they played 45 songs in their 30 minute set that night. This was different. Stylistically there are still some hardcore elements in their sound, especially in the last half of their set, but the first half was much more…I think “approachable” is the right word. Fun, melodic, engaging (read as: longer) songs with more room for textures and layers than previously heard.
And then…Avail. Like I said, it’s really a bit difficult to put their set into words. Technically, we were celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Over The James album, so that was played in full, but it was really as much of a “greatest hits” night as it was anything. It was cathartic from the word “go.” There were requisite technical difficulties, strained voices, endless crowd-surfers — not to mention a few unexpected stage divers from the wings during “Simple Song” — props, singing from the front row, a wedding proposal (she said “yes!”) and seemingly endless energy. It had the feel of a religious revival meeting that took the shape of a punk rock show. By the end of 75 minutes, “wait, this is really happening!!!” had morphed seamlessly into “Oh my god…that really happened!!!”
Avail meant a lot of things to a lot of people, particularly people who’ve been through and understood the struggles that come along with being on the margins or on the receiving end of some of the heavier things that life can throw your way. So on nights like these, when people who’ve made it through are able to come together for the first time in forever and celebrate and revel like the old days, sometimes the feeling defies words. Hopefully, the pictures below will do justice. Thanks to Tim and Beau and Gwomper and Erik and Joe for doing this.