As our New York readers may know, it was hot as hell over the weekend, which made anything involving going outside instantly a lot less appealing. Maybe it's because I'm from the SF Bay Area in California, a place where it's considered a lucky streak if you go more than two days without wearing a sweater in the middle of July, but I'm not one for heat, especially the kind of heat that feels like the entire city is taking a sweat in the sauna. I probably would've stayed crouched in the fetal position in front of my AC the whole weekend if it weren't for The Avett Brothers
, who played at the recently opened Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island on Saturday. Since I'm a big fan of the band, I braved the heat and made my way to the world-famous Boardwalk to the band live for the first time.
If you have to be outdoors during a New York heat wave, Coney Island might be the best place to be, as being right by the ocean cooled things down slightly. That said, it was still pretty warm, and the venue, basically a giant concrete building without a roof, didn't receive much of the sea breeze until much later in the evening. At the very least, there was a tent over the theater, so at least I was only embarrassingly sweaty instead of embarrassingly sweaty and
sunburned. As people made their way into the theater, it was clear that the show was going to be packed with some pretty devoted Avett fans. I saw people wearing tour shirts from a decade ago, a couple posters, and more than one person with a marker in hopes of getting an autograph. Two fans I met while waiting in line were wearing some particularly impressive hand-made band shirts: One wore a shirt that said "Love" in carefully done cursive, and the other wore one that said "Hate" in dark, bold lettering, a nod to the band's song, "The Ballad of Love and Hate." Others I met in the front row talked about travelling all over the country just to watch the Avetts with the same fervent passion as Deadheads, expect they weren't wearing any tie-dye and weren't very stoned (comparatively speaking). There wasn't an opening act, which meant sitting tight in the heat for about an hour, but that didn't seem to bother the majority of the fully stocked theater. Everyone was there and only there to see the Avett Brothers, the devoted of the devoted, and going by the contagious anticipation I felt beaming from the audience, I knew it was probably going to be a pretty good show.
As predicted, the crowd exploded into cheers as the massive 7-piece touring band came onstage, kazoos at the ready, and kicked things off with their cheeky instrumental, and usual show opener, "D Bag Rag." After that, the band went straight into the lightning fast "Talk On Indolence," and rarely stopped playing for the rest of night. Aside from a couple "thank yous" thrown in throughout, the Avetts were one of the most efficient live bands I've ever seen, moving from one song into the next without ever missing a cue. Having nine full albums of material to work with, it makes sense that the band would make the most of their time, and while a good chunk of the set list was of course dedicated to their most recent release, True Sadness
, the band also threw in some crowd-pleasers, deep cuts, and even some covers. The band was drenched in sweat by the third song, but every member was all smiles as they ran, jumped, and danced around onstage to their heart' content.
features some production polish courtesy of Rick Rubin, which was bound to upset some long-time fans of the Avetts, but the live setting shed all of that production work away and helped the new material blend in really well with the band's earlier work. "Satan Pulls the Strings" was given an extended intro that featured some amazingly sinister string work from cellist Joe Kwon and violinist Tania Elizabeth, and even bassist Bob Crawford picked up a violin to add a third part. "Ain't No Man" was even more rousing and spiritual live than on the recording, as the stomping and clapping boomed through the entire amphitheater with more passion and energy that could ever be captured in a studio. "I Wish I Was" brought one of the quieter moments in the show, as the band transformed into a trio- Scott & Seth Avett plus Crawford -and tenderly serenated the audience as the stage lights were kept dim.
Speaking of softer moments, probably the best thing about the show was that band knew how to hit all the right notes, both musically and emotionally. As mentioned before, the band kept the lineup fluid, using only as many members a given song needed rather than forcing the songs to work with their lineup. The full 7-piece was used to great effect on powerful and rousing tracks like "Head Full of Doubt/Heart Full of Promise," and "Go to Sleep," while the band's core four members (Scott, Seth, Crawford, Kwon) played some of their softer and simpler tunes like "January Wedding." There were plenty of songs done with the trio mentioned above, like "Backwards With Time" and "Shame," and there was even a point where Scott Avett was the only member onstage for the beautiful and deeply introspective "Murder In the City." What made these moments even better was that they weren't all grouped with each other, like the quiet songs weren't all done at once to leave room for all the loud ones. The concert flowed naturally in waves from big and bombastic to tender and emotional and back again, which shows how much care the band put into choosing their set. They were discreet when it needed to be, as well as explosive if the moment called for it. The audience was pretty hyped the whole time, so there was slight difficulty in calming them down in some of the softer moments, but it was still nice to see the band give so much dynamic variety in their set in hopes of stirring multiple emotions from the crowd.
There were plenty of great moments throughout the show, but my absolute favorite came towards the end when the band broke out their 2009 hit, "Kick Drum Heart." In all honesty, I didn't care much for this song when I first heard it, but the band gave the song completely new life that you can only experience live in concert. While the song is already pretty lively, the band adds a cool little extended jam at the end, but it doesnt stop there. Before I knew it, the song went from straightforward rock jam to all-out melodic chaos: Seth Avett, armed with an electric guitar, jumped deep into the audience as he rocked out a solo, with only his extra-long guitar cable tethering him to the stage. Scott jumped into the crowd as well, hugging and high-fiving fans, and the rest of the band onstage was on the floor jamming out. I had never felt so much energy at a concert where well more than half of the songs were done with acoustic guitars and banjos (Mumford & Sons, eat your heart out), and it was simply amazing. Believe it or not, that whole scene wasn't the encore, as the band came back to play a couple softer ones like "Salvation Song" and "No Hard Feelings," but that moment was the peak of the night for me personally. Even with the heat wave, the Avett Brothers kept the energy high and alive the whole night, and I'm sure every one of their fans went home happy and full of spirit. I know I sure as hell did, or at the very least, I now want to go buy myself a banjo.