For a band characterized by their fusion of bluegrass, country, and down and dirty punk rock, Nashville's Ryman Auditorium -- former home to the Grand Ole Opry and hallowed ground for country music -- is both a perfect fit and an unlikely proving ground for the Avett Brothers.
And that significance was not lost on Seth Avett, who shortly into the band's raucous two-hour Halloween set admitted, "We've been looking forward to this night all year."
That's saying a lot considering this has been the Concord, NC quartet's busiest year to date -- this tour-ending appearance at the historic former church in the heart of Music City capped off six months on the road, including a stint opening for Dave Matthews. After garnering widespread critical acclaim and a devoted cult following with years of relentless touring and five independently released LPs, the band, led by brothers Scott and Seth Avett, released I and Love and You, their excellent, Rick Rubin-produced major label debut last month.
The brothers, along with bassist Bob Crawford, took the stage dressed as Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short from Three Amigos, and opened with a festive rendition of the movie's theme song, whose exaggerated harmonies drew such stomping and applause that you could literally feel the balcony shaking.
With the sold-out crowd still howling in approval, the Avetts launched into a charged version of"Go to Sleep" from 2007's Emotionalism that exuded the kind of climatic energy usually reserved for encores and closers and saw Scott Avett pounding the banjo from his knees.
The brothers -- frequently trading off between banjo, drum, guitar and piano duties -- continued to lean heavily on the grittier, grungy side of their songs' split personalities despite the setting, drawing out older material with rowdy jams and growling screams that made the brotherly harmonies of their more traditional choices all the more impressive.
It was hard to tell who was more enthused as the agitated audience, in a constant state of motion and commotion, whistled their appreciation and danced between the Ryman's famous pews while the Avett Brothers, joined occasionally by drummer Mike Marsh (Dashboard Confessional), rotated between old favorites and new material, including the subdued, straightforward country of "January Wedding," the toe-tapping, doo-woppy singalong "Slight Figure of Speech" and the album's anthemic title track.
"This is effectively the last show of the year," said a sweat-soaked Seth Avett midway through the set. "We wanna thank you for making it one we'll never forget. We can feel the love, y'all, thanks for sending it this way."
Finally, after a brief appearance by opening act and longtime friend of the band Nicole Adkins for a melody driven version of "Swept Away," the night closed on the bluegrassy, three-part a cappella harmonies of the "Salvation Song" from 2004's Mignonette.
With the crowd singing along to lines like, "They may pay us off in fame / But that is not why we came / And if it compromises truth then we will go," it was clear why the Avett Brothers fit so comfortably on one of country music's most hallowed stages.