LEWISTON – The Avett Brothers have reached rare air in modern music, seizing stardom in seemingly disparate corners with a dynamic sound equally at home in tattoo parlors and at prom parties. It hasn’t happened overnight, and based on the band’s brilliant performance before an adoring audience approaching 4,000 at Artpark’s Mainstage Theater on Friday night, the sky is the limit to their rising stardom.
While it may be difficult to describe their sound, we also may be seeing the definition of a new genre. It’s a raw, hearty blend of bluegrass, country and punk served up by brothers Scott and Seth Avett, raised in Concord, N.C., who offer sophisticated pop structures and arena-rock stage prowess bolstered by a four-piece band.
The band began stomping the stage the second the Avetts stepped onto it. Scott’s pounding piano propelling “Colorshow” as Seth sternly sang, “Be loud/let your colors show,” to open the anthem from their 2006 album, “Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions.” “Go to Sleep,” off of their 2007 breakout album, “Emotionalism,” opened with cellist Joe Kwon stepping to edge of the stage and dancing and jumping as he repeatedly bowed a four-bar melody that became a “la la” refrain to the sing-along chorus from the brothers.
The Avetts split vocal duties throughout the show and within many of the two-dozen songs performed over two hours. They come equipped with a magical sibling harmony – Scott, a shouted baritone, and Seth, a soaring tenor with a smoother timbre. Both brothers proved able to deliver both approaches as they pleased.
The band broke loose with “Kick Drum Heart,” off 2009’s “I and Love and You,” channeling the inner Springsteen they claim as recent inspiration. Seth sang to a pulsating wall of rhythm before dropping to his knees, leaning back with guitar pointed high to unleash a searing solo as Scott raced the entire front of the stage, delivering high-fives to the front row, while bassist Bob Crawford and Kwon leaned into each other, knees bent, in front of Mike Marsh’s driving drums as Paul DeFiglia pushed the piano to complete the peak moment of the evening.
The band followed with a stripped-down mini-set highlighted by gospel traditional, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” delivering extra chills on a cool evening, especially for those of us exposed to the elements in the last rows and on the lawn. The song inspired a spontaneous clap-along of the crowd, still excited by the Avetts’ previous rock-out.
“Down with the Shine,” from “The Carpenter” album, saw Scott leading a waltz – the song at first seeming to be a shot at moonshine but taking on broader meaning as a missive against materialism and image. “Gimmeakiss” grew from a power-pop pulse to a high-speed bluegrass soundtrack, followed by a cover of Buck Owens’ “Reno Lament.”
The crowd’s ovation earned a three-song encore, including “The Perfect Space” and its profound message: “I wanna have pride like my mother has/And not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.”
In seizing commercial success while maintaining their communal sound, the Avett Brothers offer an unlikely blend of the humility of roots music and the grandiosity of arena rock. They are poised to alter the course of mainstream music. The era of banjos on the pop charts appears to be upon us.