It was in April, only five months ago that The Avett Brothers played the 1,000-capacity Boulder Theater. They easily sold out the small room, and all reviews claimed superiority. At that show, the brothers Seth and Scott brought a drummer along to fill some sound along with their quartet, which also includes bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon. A mere 27 miles away, the Avett Brothers on Saturday, September 4 took control of the 9,000-capacity world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, and left with stars shining – both literally and figuratively.
Before the release of 2009’s I and Love and You, the Avett Brothers were a relatively unknown talent from North Carolina. They were something comparable to an average-weight 15-year old attempting a cannonball off a dock in a small pond – the waves on shore were noticeable, but not distracting. It’s strange, too, because some of their best work came off of their previous albums, 2007’s Emotionalism as well as the Gleam II EP in 2008. But, when ILY hit last year, backed by Columbia/American and produced by Rick Rubin, the reaction was akin to a tidal wave for the small town boys. The album reached number 16 on the Billboard 200, and that’s not to mention the attention garnered by the title track. Only 11 months later, that wave is still worth riding, as the Avett Brothers continue to trample along.
On this particular night, The Avett Brothers opened for Gov’t Mule, and for an opening band, I’ve never seen anything like this. It was 6:30pm on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, with plenty of daylight to go. The parking lots were not bare of cars, but most of the people had gone inside the venue already, abandoning their tailgating a bit early. The Avett Brothers, now a full-time quintet including that same drummer from April, (Jacob Edwards has relieved the brothers from their duties of playing either the kick drum or the high-hat on particular songs) came on stage to screams as loud as you could imagine. The song “And It Spread” was the opener this evening, and those drums cut right through the crowd’s cheers, providing a solid back to the already sturdy front line.
There was an instant energy. It was hard not to sing along, not to dance, and for those unfamiliar, not to drop their jaws in awe. Both Scott and Seth play excellent band-leading roles: they each take equal time on lead vocals, each harmonize with the other, each shuffle around the stage to the beat of their own tunes, and each play with a fiery passion. And the others on stage aren’t so bad in the spotlight themselves. Though Edwards isn’t in the best position to take the reigns, and message boards are claiming he still needs time to settle in, it is rare for him to be caught off guard. Crawford switches between electric and upright bass with ease, never misses a note, and almost always has a smile on his face. And Kwon, cello in hand, head bangs, sings along, and at times picks his cello up so far off the ground you think he might throw it into the crowd in a fit of rock and roll induced hysteria. It really is a beautiful sight.
Each song they played was just as powerful as the last. Whether piano ballad or banjo-strummed punk-folk, their slight Southern drawl and charm shone through, as did the enthusiasm from the crowd. A Radioheadish outro after “Salina” had one new fan exclaim “Man, I am sold on these guys,” and multiple people were “shhh’d” during “January Wedding”. The breakdown to end “Laundry Room”, a carefully crafted hoe-down, started an all-out dance party in the stands. Had thunder and lightning hit at that moment, it only would have added to the electricity already at high-voltage in the crowd. It was perfect timing for the showmanship award, as the Brothers bowed slowly and walked off stage, only to be ushered quickly back for an almost unheard of opening-band encore, for which they played “Talk on Indolence”. It would prove hard for Gov’t Mule to top that one.