GREENSBORO — Toward the end of the Avett Brothers epic Monday night show, Seth Avett looked out over the New Years Eve throng gathered at Greensboro Coliseum.
Thanks for having us at your party, he said, demonstrating admirable modesty by acknowledging the Avetts bond with their fans. But lets make no mistake about who the hosts were.
Arguably North Carolinas best growth industry, the Avetts draw rabid crowds of faithful fanatics worldwide. They had an exceptional 2012 with a top-10 album and Grammy nomination, and more big things are on the way in the new year (including a spot at next weeks gubernatorial inauguration). But this show made a pretty spectacular takeaway for the year just past, a wide-ranging two-hour-plus performance by one of Americas best live bands.
Following a solid 55-minute opening set by Amos Lee, the Avetts came onstage done up for the occasion in matching white suits, which did not keep them from matching their audiences fevered intensity. Seth Avett spent much of the shows opening stitch airborne, jumping up and down. And the 15,000-voice accompaniment on Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise was something to hear.
Somehow, the Avetts make an arena feel as intimate as a front-porch hoedown. They dont scream quite as often as they used to, but Mondays show still rocked plenty hard swinging between wild-eyed frenzy and pensive ruminations. They might be the worlds first heavy-metal jug band. If that sounds weird, youd just have to see it to understand.
Scott Avett moved between piano and banjo, occasionally blowing a harmonica and hopping on top of the kick drum at the front of the stage. Bob Crawford went back and forth between standup and electric bass, while Joe Kwon was his usual dervish on cello. And Seth busted out some four-way-hips dance moves.
While the full-band arrangements were great to hear, theres still something ineffably cool about the Avetts when they strip down to the core trio of Seth, Scott and Crawford, which was the configuration for a mini-set starting with Paranoia in B Flat Major. They also ventured out into the crowd to play a handful of songs on a satellite stage at the back of the arena floor, highlighted by Seths cover of the Jim Croce chestnut Operator (proving that great songs are where you find em).
Back on the main stage, the closing hoedown raveup of Laundry Room was my favorite part of the show, with Scott working the kick drum as psychedelic lights pinwheeled across the arenas ceiling. They rocked up the jittery Kick Drum Heart with an almost metallic arrangement, ending with Seth on his knees beating the bejesus out of an electric guitar, and the folk noir of Geraldine took us to the brink of midnight.
As the band vamped on Auld Lang Syne, the crowd counted down the last 10 seconds of 2012. Confetti and balloons rained down, which turned the rest of the show into a collective game of volleyball punctuated with the sound of quasi-fireworks as the balloons popped one by one.
The encore ranged from hopeful (Salvation Song, with the Avetts sister Bonnie out to sing) to furiously rocking (I Killed Sallys Lover, in another acoustic-metal arrangement). Then they hit a note of quiet triumph with the majestic I and Love and You three words that become hard to say.
But for anybody in Greensboro Coliseum as 2012 turned into 2013, it wasnt hard at all.
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