The Avett Brothers
Bojangles Coliseum, Charlotte
Saturday, August 8
Several minutes after their scheduled start time of 8:45 p.m. had passed, The Avett Brothers climbed the stairs of the head-high stage at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte. The crowd erupted. That thousands of fans had gathered to make the Concord band’s homecoming a major event is hardly surprising: From New York to Portland and at most places in between, thousands of fans gather most every time the Avetts set fingers to strings. What was surprising in Charlotte was the manner in which the consummate showmen managed to make even an arena feel intimate, such that the connection with the audience was occasionally as compelling as the songs themselves.
The spectacle at Bojangles Coliseum (formerly Cricket Arena) was meant to be the official release party for I and Love and You, the Concord quartet’s much-anticipated major label debut for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings. But as the album’s release was pushed back from early August to the end of September, the show went on minus the new record. The empty upper-level seats, then, might have been indicative of some fans’ disappointment with the change in plans. Still, the venue felt full, and the event carried a feeling of celebration in honor of the band’s by-most-predictions promising future—and its substantial past accomplishments.
“There’s a lot of history in this room,” Seth Avett admitted, both revealing that the Coliseum was the site of his first concert experience (Soundgarden!) and acknowledging the band’s loyal base of longtime fans (“One fan at a time,” manager Dolph Ramseur has always insisted). Appropriately, plenty of history came crammed into the band’s setlist, which covered the space between first-album gem “I Killed Sally’s Lover” in all its ragtag, flat-pickin’ glory and a bulk of the forthcoming album. The band didn’t neglect favorites from Mignonette and Four Thieves Gone and both Gleam EPs, either.
The band’s newest addition, cellist Joe Kwon, added vibrant colors to the catalog, while contributions from guests, including Avett sister Bonnie, kept the set varied and exciting. The Avetts’ new love for instrument and personnel shifts— there were, at turns, as few as one and as many as six members of the band—had a tendency to slow the roll of the band’s performance, though.
Where once upon a time not too long ago, one could count on the all-acoustic trio of Scott, Seth and bassist Bob Crawford standing by their banjo, kick-drum, six-string, hi-hat and doghouse bass arrangements, electric guitar, electric bass, cello, piano, banjo and a full drum set offered a bigger sound. The fans greeted the band’s every move with gleeful uproar.
It wasn’t hard to see why: Perhaps more than any band working today, The Avett Brothers offer an endearing honesty and down-to-earth vitality. Their art is ours, it seems, and their un-politicized lyrics echo the thoughts of the everyman. In the world of an Avetts song, family values are goals that aren’t always achieved; love is hard-earned and worth it; the road offers an escape, but coming home is always a relief, too.
These songs embrace the everyday, turning the ever-important little things into codas and catharses. They get us because they are us. And, Saturday night, the crowd—thousands of them, new album or no—recognized themselves, and responded in kind.