BY KATIE MOULTON
The Avett Brothers barnstormed the Pageant last night and lead a stomping jubilee with its genre-razing folk-punk.
Fronted by string-snapping multi-instrumentalist brothers Seth and Scott Avett, the band destroyed any notion of traditional or roots music with a raucous set where even the ballads blistered. Drawing mostly from its four albums since 2006, including many crowd-favorites from 2007's Emotionalism, the band twisted up pretty acoustic picking, powerful harmonizing and furious whiskey-fire banjo (along with the occasional venture into guitar- and piano-driven rock), often within the course of a single song. The brothers' plaintive and precise bluegrass wails morphed into screams and pew-seat testimonials.
The band slowed things down a moment to perform its fantastic piano-based, cello-featuring title single "I and Love and You," the title track from its forthcoming Rick Rubin-produced major-label debut. But the pace soon accelerated with the Bone Thugs-fast rapid-fire spew at the start of "Talk on Indolence," a song that also includes an instrument-beating breakdown.
The band's relentless energy -- kicking, yipping, Joe Kwon swinging his cello like a square dance partner during sunny "Die, Die, Die"-- reflected in the literally all-ages crowd, which danced, hooted and hollered continuously as the spirit moved them. One guy couldn't help from screaming after each delicate, plainspoken line of acoustic "The Ballad of Love and Hate," performed by Seth alone under a single spotlight. The otherwise pin-drop-quiet crowd respected his fervor enough not to shut him up.
On familial tribute and audience darling "Murder in the City," which tells loved ones, "Don't go revenging in my name," middle-aged men raised glasses in the air, young people threw arms around each other and little pony-tailed girls were hoisted onto fathers' shoulders for a better view. A summer night at the modern-day hootenanny, for sure.
Though superficial comparisons with fellow handsome, artfully long-haired Southern relations Kings of Leon are probably inevitable, the Avett Brothers -- with its knack for masterful Americana-twinged rawness -- inspires a new vernacular.
Opener Samantha Crain also proved herself capable of sending her filly stomp in diverse directions, pushing out the edges of her dark, soulful alt-country. Thumping adorably on her Cash-black acoustic guitar, the pint-size Crain was clear leader of her band the Midnight Shivers, which included two musicians from Perryville, Missouri.
Noting how nice it was to be back in the Midwest (I saw her leaving Blueberry Hill before the show), the Shawnee, Oklahoma, native channeled the lumbering train of "Folsom Prison Blues" on her song "Scissor Tails." Crain also commented on the day's big music-history news, saying, "In honor of Michael Jackson, we're going to rock out a bit."
Going in, I couldn't have imagined attending a performance any further from those of Michael Jackson. During the course of the show, however, a reminiscent youthful exuberance, brilliant inventiveness and defiance of boundaries were definitely at work. Death turns up and takes the bow frequently in the Avett Brothers' music, and their stark sing-along show-closing choruses echoed appropriately: "We came for salvation/We came for family...We came to leave the world a better way."
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