The Avett Brothers took the stage on March 7 at Rochester Institute of Technology, shrouded in blue overhead light and struck a solemn chord. “It’s the skin and bones that keep me on the road,” Scott Avett belted, his voice weathered but not weary, his fingers sounding a crisp lament from the strings of his banjo.
“Skin and Bones,” the Avetts’ opener, set the stage for a two hour and 15 minute concert, packed with 26 songs cataloguing the brothers’ reflections on longing, loss, passion, death, family and life on the road. Their set blended the raw energy of a stadium venue with the tenderness and familiarity of a coffee shop show. The band displayed that it’s not only the skin and bones that keep it on the road but also its passion for the craft that keeps the duo on stage for hours, sweating and singing and dancing with fans.
Standing in the front row, I could hear Seth Avett’s car keys jangling as he danced across the stage, from his microphone to the top of the piano, with Scott Avett and the rest of the band contesting his energy step for step. It was easy to see the show’s energy coursing through Joe Kwon, the Avetts’ cello player, as he carried his instrument on his shoulder for the entirety of the show, setting it down only to sink to his knees during a solo – a frenzy of horsehair shredding on strings.
I was struck by the band’s stamina, as even my legs and lungs quickly became tired from dancing and singing along. Meanwhile Scott Avett – banjo in hand, harmonica around his neck and kick drum underfoot – stomped from foot to foot like a manic prospector who’d just struck gold.
The lights dropped during the middle of the show, while Seth and Scott Avett walked with their guitars out onto the platform in the middle of the audience and performed heartfelt acoustic duets. The brothers were close enough to me to touch; I could hear the notes from their guitars before they came over the speakers.
At the end of “Ten Thousand Words,” the brothers crept back to the stage and erupted in the raucous piano-heavy “Colorshow,” proclaiming, “Be loud, let your colors show,”
Their energy continued to build throughout the set, peaking during “Paul Newman vs. The Demons.” The band traded acoustic instruments for electric, turned the distortion on and cranked out a wall of sound that would’ve been at home in Madison Square Garden.
Despite the song’s dark themes of death and painful remembrance, the band and the crowd went wild as Seth Avett, not-so-ironically clad in denim and sporting braids, climbed atop the piano and made his guitar scream. All the while, Scott Avett leapt off of the stage and ran into the audience, shaking hands and giving hugs to fans all the way into the nosebleeds.
The band walked off stage with a crowd that was screaming for more. It wasn’t long until the group bounded back on and picked up their instruments. Before the encore, Seth Avett, demonstrating the brothers’ gratitude, replied to the cheers, “We would absolutely love it, thanks for asking.”
The band’s encore included three songs: a toe-tapping cover of the funeral hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a weary, soulful rendition of their hit “I and Love and You” and a light and heartfelt goodbye to the audience with a cover of the doo-wop hit “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite.”
Throughout the set, the band members demonstrated their sincerity, passion and versatility as a group growing ever more popular yet staying true to their roots and their ability to find joy in life and music.