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Published: 2011/06/15
by Will English

The Avett Brothers, State Theater, Portland, ME – 6/2

Photo by Rex Thomson from last month

Though his surname doesn’t appear on the marquee or the merchandise, there’s no question that bassist/vocalist Bob Crawford is an integral part of the sound and success of The Avett Brothers. So when the band took the stage at the State Theater without Crawford, who was at home with his expectant wife, one had to wonder if the band’s highly anticipated performance – the show sold out months in advance – might suffer somewhat without one of its key members. However, with help from talented stand-in Paul DeFiglia, The Avett Brothers delivered a well received set filled with their trademark energy and passion.

Show opener ‘And it Spread’ missed the mark due to a bottom-heavy board mix, but still drew in the eager-to-be-pleased crowd with its rapid-fire drum and vocal bridge and sing-along chorus. The first of many line-up combinations came early, with cellist Joe Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards taking a break during the ‘Paranoia in Bb Major’ that followed, the start to which found the sparse jangle of Scott Avett’s banjo complementing his own soulful warble beautifully. Brother Seth’s harmony and restrained rhythm guitar weaved into the mix nicely before the three piece unit exploded during the song’s instrumental interludes, delivering a raw but metered sonic assault that made it clear the initial sound issues had been resolved.

Though more than half of the twenty tunes performed were from their two most recent LPs, the band did manage to include cuts from nearly all of their studio releases. They were back to a five piece when Kwon, already with a playing with a severely shredded bow, broke a string during ‘Colorshow.’ He barely missed a beat, however, restringing his cello in under a minute. The strong cadence of the song’s verses, punctuated by intense call-and-response between the brothers, was pleasantly offset by the chorus’ sweet and melodic harmony. After another quick personnel change, Seth and Joe backed Scott for a great take on ’Swept Away’ that was propelled by the brothers’ outstanding foot percussion (Scott (bass drum), Seth (hi-hat)). The trio then shrunk to a duo for ‘When I Drink,’ which featured Scott’s crisp harmony eventually dancing above Seth’s smooth, emotive vocal lead to the delight of the enamored crowd.

Though Bob Crawford’s vocals and familiarity were missed, Paul DeFiglia did a admirable job filling in on bass. DeFiglia’s prowess was particularly notable on ‘January Wedding.’ During the slow build at the start of the song he was up front and on point, and during the country waltz portion he held serve against Joe Kwon’s vibrant cello work and the Avetts’ piercing vocals. Seth and Scott were comfortable enough with Paul to perform with him as a trio a second time, treating the crowd to delightful mid-set ’Shame’. Clearly enjoying the biggest gig of his career to date, DeFiglia’s rapture was particularly evident during ‘Go To Sleep’ when his wide, awestruck grin was almost as engaging as Seth Avett’s strong staccato vocals.

Prior to the full band closing the set with a flurry of numbers from 2009’s I and Love and You, the brothers Avett each put forth solo offerings. Scott performed a heartfelt ‘Murder in the City’ and Seth serenaded the crowd with ‘The Ballad of Love and Hate’. The set closing combo of ‘Kick Drum Heart’ and ‘I and Love and You’ was predictable but enjoyed nonetheless by the raucous Thursday night crowd. As the evening came to a close with Scott and Seth performing a fabulous gospel tinged a capella version of ‘Down in the Valley’, the crowd enthusiastically clapping and stomping in time, there was no doubt that The Avett Brothers’ first concert in Maine would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.

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