Chances are great, however, that no one is complaining about their hoarseness.
The three-day, sold-out love-fest added another emphatic line of demarcation to the Avett Brothers’ evolution. Every time these Concord kin stop in Colorado, their growth as a band can be marked as sure as a sprouting kid’s height against a kitchen wall with a ruler and pencil. Was it really so long ago these boys were playing in front of a few hundred people under an outdoor band shell in Steamboat Springs? A curiosity few passersby stopped to take in during the 2008 Monolith Festival at these very same Red Rocks?
After selling 30,000 seats over the past three days, yes, things have changed. So much so that the humble, hard-working foursome of Scott and Seth Avett, Joe Kwon and Bob Crawford — now swollen to a fully fleshed, seven-person live outfit – could practically claim title to Red Rocks. They certainly strutted around this weekend like they own the place. I’m not sure when the Avetts became a football team, but all the screaming, the bouncy cheerleading and the signs of unadulterated adoration for the team made it all feel a little like a Broncos game.
Not that it was a weekend without its bumps. If day one was The Hijacking (by Bob Weir and Ratdog), and day two was The Baptism (by a constant rain), then day three was The Consummation. Everything came together in harmony and convergence for a glorious evening under a near-full moon. The only rain Sunday came in the lyrics to “Salina” (“The rain it fell … the story went on.”)
The Avett Brothers treated their first three-day campout in Morrison as, in effect, one concert in three parts, with set lists that clearly took into consideration the likelihood that many fans were with them for the whole weekend. Those who attended all three concerts were treated to more than 60 different songs, only three of which were played all three nights – “Kick Drum Heart,” “Live and Die” and “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise.”
On Sunday, the Avett Brothers took the congregation to church … and at the prettiest outdoor temple on Earth. The final set was the longest and most satisfying of the weekend, clocking in at 29 songs.
Day three opened with “Cluck Old Hen,” a popular Appalachian fiddle and banjo standard, followed by a funky, electrified “Colorshow” that perfectly illustrates how delightfully anachronistic this band can be, not only from song to song but from stanza to stanza. Next came the quiet prayer “The Perfect Space” (“I want to have friends that I can trust; that love me for the man I’ve become, not the man that I was”) — and let’s face it: By then, the night was already won, three songs in. Later, the band gave a taste of what’s coming next with a lovely ballad called “Rejects in the Attic,” which includes the lyrics, “Winter’s on its way without you.”
For the third night in a row, the greatest mystery was what covers the band might choose to fill out each eclectic set list, and again their selections were hilariously disparate: (Quick! What do Jim Croce, Willie Nelson and Beyoncé have in common? The Avetts played Croce’s “Operator,” Nelson’s “If You’ve Got the Money, Honey” and Beyoncé’s “Halo” — all in the same set.)
The Avett Brothers have gotten where they are with humility, an indefatigable work ethic and a gift for storytelling that is cathartic and impossible to pigeonhole. There is something irresistible about watching Joe Kwon head-pumping so hard he nearly scrapes his head against the stage floor – while playing cello. … Ever-smiling bassist Bob Crawford strumming along like he walked out of a “Jan & Dean” movie. … The welcome estragonal addition of violinist Tania Elizabeth from the band The Duhks. … When the whole gang bounces up and down like they’re dancing along to a Charlie Brown movie.
But no matter how big the Avett Brothers ever get, the great appeal of their act is no act. It’s family. It’s a now clean-shaven Scott wielding his musical message with the messianic swagger of a teenage preacher, complemented by Seth sporting braided pigtails and singing with a fervor that could totally make you see why acolytes would follow Charles Manson into a desert.
Beyond the bewitching bombast, there’s nothing better than when the lights come down and the two brothers share a mic, sweetly harmonizing as if still boys standing in the living room at home, singing for their parents.
When the Avetts stood before the Red Rocks crowd on Sunday, hearts on their sweaty sleeves, and sang, “We came to leave behind the world a better way,” all you can say is … mission accomplished.
See the Avett Brothers’ full weekend of setlists below (click to enlarge):
John Moore founded The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase in 2001 and served as deputy sports editor, rock writer and theater critic at The Denver Post. He is now an in-house journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and founded a nonprofit called the Denver Actors Fund. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.