The Avett Brothers played at the Palace Theatre just three days after Woodstock drummer Levon Helm died, a reminder that they are one of several young, exceedingly popular current bands who owe a huge debt to Helm’s the Band. Along with the Catskills’ Felice Brothers and England’s Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers have scored big by taking indie rock and fusing it with Band-like elements of old-timey country and ragged roots rock.
It’s a sound that brothers Scott and Seth Avett admit they came to not all that long ago. Although they grew up on a farm in Concord, N.C., the sibling songwriters originally were part of a skate-punk scene, musically drawn to ’80s punk and British pop before they embraced banjo-fueled bluegrass and rustic Americana in their 20s.
But that background in punk music gives the Avett Brothers one of their most notable qualities: a high-speed energy and infectious, hootin’-and-hollerin’ enthusiasm that makes the spirit of their live show hard to resist. From the start of the sold-out Palace show, the crowd was on its feet, as the Avett Brothers—with Scott Avett on banjo and Seth Avett on acoustic guitar—kicked off the two-hour set with a series of breakneck, impossibly fast-strummed tunes with shouted choruses, including “I Killed Sally’s Lover” and “Will You Return?”
Joined by cellist Jon Kwon, upright bassist Bob Crawford and drummer Jacob Edwards for most of the night (which involved its share of instrument swapping), the Avetts kept the worshipful crowd standing and riveted even with their slower songs, from the blue-collar ballad “The Once and Future Carpenter” to heartfelt love ode “January Wedding,” destined to be a staple of indie-rock wedding playlists forever more.
If the Avett Brothers have a fault, it’s that nearly every one of their songs seems to contain an old-fashioned truism of some sort. It’s a bit too homily-like, as if many of their lyrics wouldn’t seem out of place on an embroidered pillow. “They say life only grows short, I say the road only grows long,” sang the Avetts on the uptempo rocker “Tin Man,” in one such instance. Tinges of darkness were rare but welcome, as when Scott Avett sang, “There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light, and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it,” during a striking version of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise.”
But the band—who last played in Albany on their first tour 10 years ago, and have come a long way since then—played every one of the songs on their nearly 30-song list with the utmost conviction and an exuberance that was impossible to deny, and by mid-set a joyous crowd had filled the aisles of the Palace’s orchestra section, swaying along to ballads like “Murder in the City” and “I and Love and You” while cheering and clapping along to playful rockers like “At the Beach” and “Kick Drum Heart.”