Delivering a compelling foot-stomping performance that was equal parts hootenanny and joyful revival, The Avett Brothers again conquered Sacramento on March 30. The sold-out crowd of 2,400 at the downtown Community Center Theatre was on its feet most of the night, reveling in the experience, singing along with myriad lyric phrases that resonated personally with fans.
"You can’t sit still at an Avett show,” said Stephanie Jones Sobka from San Diego County, who attended the previous night’s show in Fresno. “I never sit down. I’m moving the whole time.”
Led by Scott (banjo, piano, and vocals) and Seth Avett (guitar, piano, and vocals), with substantial supporting roles by long-time core members Bob Crawford (electric and double bass, and vocals) and Joe Kwon (cello and vocals), The Avett Brothers breezed seamlessly through 26 original musical tales of life, love, triumph, and tenderness, of varying tempos, cadences, and moods. Mike Marsh (drums) and Scott and Seth’s older sister, Bonnie Avett Rini (keyboards, vocals) rounded out the live ensemble. Tanya Elizabeth, who has played fiddle with the band for much of the past four years, was not with the band.
Songwriting partners Scott, now 41, and Seth, 37, bare their souls through music. Their instrumental acumen, indefatigable passion, charming Southern drawl, and impressive upper vocal range, visibly thrilled the crowd throughout the show. A half-dozen selections came from their most recent project, “True Sadness,” including alt-rocker “Satan Pull the Strings,” the coolest bass-driven song ever, “Ain’t No Man,” and the stirring “I Wish I Was.” The show also included a few songs performed with a lone spotlight on center stage, such as Scott’s solo rendering of “Murder in the City,” and Seth and Scott performing as a duo, sharing a mic during “Fisher Road to Hollywood.”
A few newer, post-“True Sadness” songs, rocker “Orion’s Belt,” strummy mid-tempo “Roses & Sacrifice,” and "Old Joe Clark," a bluegrass instrumental played at a breakneck pace, added to the broad array of material.
“What drew me into them to begin with has to do with their lyrics, the way they write their songs, and how I’m touched by every single song,” Jones Sobka said.
The band, now about 20 years old – more or less depending on when one puts a date to the end of Nemo and the beginning of the Avett Brothers – also performed some of their most enduring older pieces of music, including the anthemic “Head Full of Doubt,” the endearing “Live and Die,” the audience-air-drum-participation “Kick Drum Heart,” and poignant, set-ending, “I and Love and You.”
One typically impressive moment came during “Live and Die,” which was a virtual sing-along (luckily, the band was plenty louder than the audience). With Marsh and Rini stoking the fire, the core four performed energetically with Kwon moving about and almost dancing with his cello, Crawford standing motionless while booming bass tones, Seth strumming guitar and singing his heart out, and banjo-picking Scott, stamping around the stage – and into the audience.
“They are really reminiscent of some of the jam bands of days gone past, such as The Grateful Dead,” said David Skonezny, also of San Diego County. “Kind of like a Jerry Garcia tune where despite yourself you find your toe tapping and your leg moving and pretty soon you’ve got to stand up.”
The eloquent ballad of self-reflection, “No Hard Feelings” served as the final encore, offering at the close, “For life and its loveliness / And all of its ugliness / Good as it's been to me / I have no enemies / I have no enemies / I have no enemies.” That notion, "I have no enemies,” was on display via a poster festooned to the piano.
Set list: Shame, Will You Return?, Satan Pulls the Strings, Morning Song, Ain't No Man, Roses & Sacrifice, Orion's Belt, You Are Mine, November Blue, Distraction #74, Head Full of Doubt, I Wish I Was, I Would Be Sad, Live and Die, Laundry Room, Old Joe Clark, Salina, Murder in the City, Fisher Road to Hollywood, Vanity, Kick Drum Heart, Geraldine, I and Love and You. Encore: The D Bag Rag, Talk on Indolence, No Hard Feelings