The whole evening leading up to The Avett Brothers’ performance, an ominous figure underneath a large sheet sat the length of the stage. Before the bluegrass punk-rock band appeared, their roadies slowly rolled off the giant sheet to reveal the band’s entire concert setup.
People then saw what instruments were involved, but they may not have seen what was coming. The Avett Brothers opened the night of May 12 at Stage AE with kazoos in their mouths, playing a foot-stomping, four-on-the-floor version of “The D Bag Rag.” They followed that up with “Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise” from their hit album I And Love And You. All of the members, especially the brothers Seth and Scott Avett, looked like football players getting pumped up for a game, or like children with too much energy.
Throughout the night, Seth and Scott switched between acoustic and electric guitar, piano and banjo. At one point, Seth jumped on the mic and handed Scott the tambourine he had been playing; for a second, Scott pretended like he didn’t know what to do with it, only to start banging on it while he jumped on the other mic. The brothers weren’t the only energetic, instrument-sharing folks on stage though. The cellist, Joe Kwon, and the fiddler, Tania Elizabeth, also bounced around. During one song, each played the others’ instrument with their own bows.
The audience also joined in and acted as the “sixth man” of the night. The pit crowd took over the first verse of “Live And Die” as the brothers stepped in front of their mics to sing along. During “Morning Song,” they initiated a call and response with the crowd, singing, “I have to find that melody alone.”
“Don’t sing if you don’t want to,” Scott yelled as he walked across the stage.
At points, the band would show its rock side, like during “Vanity” when they went off on a well-planned, Queen-like tangent of an instrumental break. Other times, they’d uncover a bit of rap skills, like in the song “Talk On Indolence,” which includes some killer bars that both Scott and Seth laid down. “I didn’t know they could rap!” yelled one man in the audience.
The last song of the band’s pre-encore setlist was, not surprisingly, “I And Love And You.” When Scott sang, “Three words that became hard to say,” he lifted up his hand making an “OK” sign, three fingers in the air. The crowd instantly followed his lead. As he sang, “I,” “love,” and “you,” every hand lowered one finger at a time.
The Avett Brothers are performers who dare to mix musical genres, but in the smoothest way possible. Pinning them down into one box or another is not something listeners can do.
They’re kind of like a mysterious figure beneath a large sheet.
*Originally published in Pittsburgh City Paper