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I arrived at the breezy Bank of America Pavilion this past Sunday evening with nothing but expectation– ten years behind the rest of the world, I was relatively new to the work of the Avett Brothers and the enormous gathering they’d picked up from fans of all genres and wasn’t sure what sort of audience would be entering with me. The audience was as eclectic as the music they came to hear, and greeted the band (the two Avetts and three band members) with a standing ovation and roars in spite of the chilly weather. Get thousands of people to cheer for you in the cold, and you can get them to do anything.
This fan devotion is due in part to the raw energy the group brings onstage that ranges from Scott Avett’s distinct, almost Buddy Holly-esque way of holding an acoustic to Seth’s sometimes manic punk playing during their more upbeat tracks. With no opening act, Seth, Scott, and bandmates Bob Crawford (stand-up bass), Joe Kwan (cello), and Jacob Edwards (drums) launched into “Paranoia in B Flat Major”, one of the more popular tracks from their 2007 breakout release Emotionalism, setting the Pavilion’s huge stage full with banjo and acoustic alike. This balance of sound is something the group would play with throughout the show, constantly changing, adding, and removing instruments from portions of the show to give their sound a range of acoustic folk to a pop-infused rock to perhaps what they are most famous for, a bluegrass-folk blend. With a set list that relied mainly upon tracks from their newest album The Carpenter (released on September 11th) and some bigger hits from the past five years and less so on their early work, the Avetts pleased the crowd and had no shortage of surprises.
Many of the show’s highlights featured a reduced band size, often down to one or two of the brothers. The stage darkened as Seth and Scott performed “When I Drink” and “Sanguine” accompanied only with acoustic and banjo, giving hardcore fans an up-close look at the musical relationship of the brothers. Scott takes the lead and rips on the banjo as Seth’s vocals soar and harmonize– there is a comfort and a familiarity between the brothers that makes the sound almost effortless, and a viewer is almost sad to see the band begin once more. When a song like “Love Like the Movies” starts, though, the energy picks up once more and the full five-person set-up strengthens the slightly edgier, less folky tunes. Scott returned to the stage alone several songs later to perform “Murder in the City”, an extremely personal song with tongue-in-cheek references to the relationship between him and Seth. “I wonder which brother is better,” he sang with a smirk, “which one our parents loved the most,” and the audience tittered accordingly.
Though they’re not the most expressive stage personalities, the Avetts were unable to suppress their enthusiasm for bringing on a “very special friend” in the second act of the show. G. Love (of G. Love and Special Sauce) arrived on stage with harmonica in tow, all smiles as he and Scott began their collaborative set with the full band with a harmonica battle, leading into “The Fall”. The crowd was thrilled as the longtime friends continued with “Milk and Sugar”, a twangy tune with, ahem, questionable undertones that they performed together a few years ago.
Wrapping the show up with a full band, the Avett Brothers did not skimp on the hits, and new and old fans alike were able to mouth the words to some of their bigger hits like “Shame”, “I and Love and You”, and a fantastic performance of 2009’s “Kick Drum Heart”. Concluding with a killer encore including “If It’s the Beaches”, “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”, and “Talk on Indolence”, the crowd screamed for more after a full 90-minute set, and the Avetts were as gracious as ever. “Thank you for letting us play in your beautiful city,” Scott smiled, “we’ll be back soon!” In short, the Avetts won me over– they’re a group that appeal to everyone from families to country/bluegrass fans to college freshmen going through a nasty breakup, and this reach is unfailingly charming. The Carpenter is available now.