Last Friday night, the Robinson Center curtain rose to reveal a brightly lit, stage-spanning backdrop — a drawing of an old wooden ship and a flock of birds taking flight. The Avett Brothers emerged, dressed in full black suits and ties. Fans pressed forward to fill aisles and empty seats. Hundreds of camera phones and point-and-shoots hovered above heads, glowing at the ends of outstretched arms in an attempt to capture the moment.
And that’s what the Avett Brothers did. They created a moment for the audience. Kick-drum and banjo begged folks to dance a jig. Piano and cello brought them back to a sway. Lyrics wove a tale that all connected with and sang along to. This is why, after eight years of prolific touring and self-producing albums, the Avett Brothers have an intensely dedicated following.
Their signing on with American/Columbia in 2008 and recording a new album with Rick Rubin has caused a bit of a stir in Avett Brothers-land. Folks have spoken skeptically of pop beats and melodies, worried the band might be trading out its unique sound for fame and fortune. But Friday night the Avett Brothers proved there isn’t much to get up in arms about. Opening with crowd favorites “Salina” and “Shame,” they seamlessly transitioned into “I and Love and You” from the just-released, same-titled album.
Tunes from “I and Love and You” are more subdued, less frantic than the raw sound that’s brought them this far. But the energy is still vivid. Emotions are still worn on sleeves. And though the night’s set list artfully blended the old and the new, from “Kick Drum Heart” to “Down with a Glistening Shine,” it’s obvious the band is evolving.
They played their traditional banjo, guitar, kick-drum and standup bass on anchors like “Paranoia in B-Flat Major” and “Denouncing November Blue.” Then Scott and Seth Avett set aside their respective banjo and guitar, and rotated to piano and drums for “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise” from the new album, and “Down with a Glistening Shine.”
These instrumental additions are an obvious departure from classic Avett Brothers performances, but the heart and soul of the band still comes through. The Robinson Center performance pleased long-time devotees and new fans alike. It will be interesting to see if this new album has staying power, and if it can both create new fans and hang onto old ones.