When you get right down to it, nearly every song The Avett Brothers sing is a love song. Not necessarily of the boy-meets-girl variety – although there’s a fair amount of that – as love in the larger, spiritual sense: love of man, god, friend, brother, son, wife – and what we stand to lose if we throw those connections away.
The Avetts are a deeply spiritual band in the same way The Band was, and their songs mine much of the same territory, although in their own unique fashion. Over the course of two-plus hours at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, NH – with a set list that stretched to 27 songs – brothers Scott and Seth Avett were able to cover a lot of musical ground, from gospel-tinged harmonies to country ballads to their own distinctive fusion of bluegrass and rock that’s been dubbed “punk-grass.”
Highlights of the Whittemore Center show included some of the staples of their live concerts – “I And Love And You,” “Laundry Room,” “January Wedding,” “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “Go To Sleep,” “I Killed Sally’s Lover” – along with gems like “The Traveling Song,” “Pretty Girl From Cedar Lane,” “Denouncing November Blue,” and “Living of Love.”
In concert, the Avetts are supported by regular partners Joe Kwon on cello and Jacob Edwards on drums. Paul Defiglia has been filling in on stand-up bass for longtime band member Bob Crawford, who has been off the road of late to care for his ailing young daughter.
Although the Avetts embrace the ragged edges of live rock and roll, they can stop on a dime and unfurl the most beautiful, brotherly harmonies. Midway through their set, the band took a break and left Scott Avett alone at center stage to sing the haunting ballad “Murder in the City.” He was then joined by brother Seth to harmonize on two other songs “When I Drink” and the old spiritual “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Then it was back to the ragged edges again.
At one point in the night, someone from the crowd called out – as fans often do – “We love you!” and Seth Avett stopped in mid-sentence to return the compliment. “We love you, too,” he noted, adding with a smile that, “I’ve learned you can get in a lot of trouble if you don’t say ‘I love you’ back, when someone says that to you.”