The Avett Brothers made me cry.
There had been plenty of lumps in throat, smiles on face and bumps on skin leading up to the moment. But when the band lit into its modern spiritual “No Hard Feelings” for the final encore, there was water on face as Seth Avett sang:
“When my body won’t hold me anymore/and it finally lets me free/will I be ready?/when my feet won’t walk another mile/and my lips give their last kiss goodbye/will my hands be steady?”
This was the band as contemporary spiritual choir, one of about 10 musical guises it donned over the course of its staggering, two-hour, 10-minute show at a sold-out Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio, Tuesday, Aug. 14. From the first note in daylight at 8 p.m. sharp to the final bows in darkness, shortly after 10, the audience was on its collective feet, singing along to nearly every word, as the band held them rapt with its eclectic mix of county, folk, classical, rock and even a bit of prog that featured cello solos, bowed bass, rhythm banjo, piano-cello duets, screeching guitars and lengthy pieces that featured piano and organ a la the Band.
With touring fiddler Tania Elizabeth absent and replaced by a keyboardist, the band had a different sound as Scott Avett (banjo, acoustic guitar, harp, ukulele, piano), Seth Avett (electric and acoustic guitars, piano, percussion), Bob Crawford (acoustic and electric bass), cellist Joe Kwon and touring drummer Mike Marsh played in configurations ranging from one to six depending on the song.
Authors of enchanting melodies and lyrics that range from the sublime to the silly – but never stupid – the Avett Brothers offered up a fat slice of American music with songs about human frailty (“Satan Pulls the Strings”), human emotion (“Kick Drum Heart”), love between humans (“I Wish I Was”) and the three hardest words for humans to say (“I and Love and You”).
Scott played a folksy, solo-acoustic version of “Murder in the City.” Seth and Crawford (on standup) performed a modern-day rendition – “you can keep the three dollars and 75 cents,” it went – of Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels).”
The full band channeled an amalgam of Queen and Procol Harum on the proggy power ballad “Vanity,” which found Seth preening like an arena-rock star while playing electric leads at the side of the stage and Kwon and Crawford squared off and traded licks.
There was a Baptist sermon on the celebratory “Ain’t No Man,” a cappella save for bass and drums as Seth roamed the crowd in the dark. And the four main members played bluegrass – albeit with electric guitar and bass – on the traditional “Black Mountain Rag.”
With a deep vocal blend that only blood kin can muster and with a steady lineup of musicians/singers alongside them, the Avett brothers (lower-case) could have run with any of these styles and fashioned an incredible concert – and career – out of it. That they continue to evolve and expand their palette after 18 years and nine studio albums ensures many more years, records and concerts ahead.
There’ll be no tears over that.