The Best Songs: Murder in The City – The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers are a band from Concord, North Carolina. Two brothers, Seth and Scott, formed the group after the breakup of the former rock band, Nemo, adding a third member, Bob Crawford on bass. More recently, they have been joined by cellist Joe Kwon. Simone Felice (Felice Brothers, The Duke & The King) played drums on some of the tracks on their latest album I and Love and You.

Murder in the city (official video):

The Avett Brothers combine country, bluegrass, pop, folk, rock and roll, honky tonk and ragtime to produce a sound described by the Washington Post as “post civil-war modern rock”, or by other reviewers as “grungegrass”.

They are great on record and their concerts take your breath away. I saw them in August 2011 at oyafestival in Oslo, Norway and heard the song Murder in the city for the first time, I mean really heard it for the first time. I did listen to it before the concert, but at the show it really hit me, hard.

I thought it was the most bittersweet song I had ever heard about the permanence of family ties.

Then I read (in Salisburypost) Scott Avett’s explanation of the song, when comparing it to characters in his oil-paintings (yes, he’s a very good painter as well, self portrait included here):

Avett is in no hurry to let these characters work their way through their situations. Barely into his 30s, Avett says he will probably be in his 50s or 60s before his plan is complete. He adds that the meaning of the paintings will not be readily apparent to most people, who will “make up their own story,” which Avett welcomes people to do.

He compares this to his songs, which have definite context, but listeners interpret the meanings differently than what he intended.

He uses as an example the song, “Murder in the City,” which begins “if I get murdered in the city, don’t go revengin’ in my name.” On the surface the song seems to be a testament about the Avett brothers’ relationship with each other, their parents, and sister. Scott says it is actually a letter he wrote to his wife. He says because of his “paranoia” he has been known to leave notes with instructions in case of his death, such as a directive to Seth to finish a particular song for him.

It is great to get his initial meaning presented in such a way, but I think the song has evolved into a story of the two brothers, their sister, father and mother, and also their new families. In Oslo it also got another meaning and the audience sensed it when Scott Avett sang the lines:

If I get murdered in the city
Don’t go revenging in my name

These words echoes the words of our then prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg after the terrible mass murder in Oslo the 22nd of July 2011:

We will meet these horrible acts with more openness
and more democracy.

It touched me, and many people in the audience, I think, and it will forever be one of the greatest songs I know.

Here is a lovely version from Forecastle festival 2009:


If I get murdered in the city
Don’t go revengin in my name
One person dead from such is plenty
No need to go get locked away

When I leave your arms
The things that I think of
No need to get over ??
I’m comin home

I wonder which brother is better
Which one our parents love the most
I sure did get in lots of trouble
They said to let the other go

A tear fell from my father’s eyes
I wondered what my dad would say
He said I love you
And I’m proud of you both, in so many different ways

If I get murdered in the city
Go read the letter in my desk
Don’t worry with all my belongings
But pay attention to the list

Make sure my sister knows I loved her
Make sure my mother knows the same
Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name
Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name

Studio version:

– Hallgeir (I also shot all the pics during “Murder in The City”, except for the painting, but you knew that…)


5 thoughts on “The Best Songs: Murder in The City – The Avett Brothers”

  1. Fantastic post!
    The Avett Brothers are one of the most incredible live bands I’ve ever seen. The first time I ever heard them was at a music festival. I’d never heard them before, and I’m not very easily impressed, but after the show I couldn’t get them out of my head. I had to go home and look them up. Since then I’ve heard everything they’ve done, and got my hands on as many Avett concert tickets as I could. They definitely leave you wanting more, and Murder in the City can easily move me to tears, especially live.

    Also, the photos are amazing. Absolutely beautiful shots. Thank you SO much for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, it is much appreciated and an inspiration to keep it going. Thank you!

      – Hallgeir

    1. The Avett brothers have, as far as I know, not allowed taping and sharing of their live shows.
      There are relatively few boots out there, and The Avett brothers have already made three official live albums that I think (almost) documents the live shows sufficiently.
      There are some shows on DVD, and the best of the few I’ve seen is the Austin City Limits performace from 2009.

      Happy hunting!

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