‘There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light‘ Appropriate words to open The Avett Brother‘s first ever headlining set at Red Rocks. As darkness claimed the night, the gods proved themselves to be bluegrass fans. The threatening thunder clouds gave way to a clear black sky and the brothers received an uninterrupted two hours of perfect Colorado weather. With the city lights and the stars up above acting as decoration, the band was literally flooded in light — a glowing beacon in the dark, breezy night.
There are quite a few bands making quality americana and bluegrass these days, but here in Colorado The Avett Brothers are the only such band that can count on sold-out shows every time they come through town. This year they decided to take it to another level, not only selling out the Boulder Theater AND the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, but also having that second show simulcast on the World’s Largest HDTV at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Not too shabby for a couple brothers from Concord, North Carolina — pretty impressive for a band that was relatively unknown just a few short years ago. You would even be forgiven for mistaking the Avett‘s for a new band, when in reality they released their first of ten albums/eps over a decade ago. Their small, but loyal fan-base might have been disappointed when their well kept secret was leaked through radio waves across the country in the form of I and Love and You — the first step in a short but precipitous journey from obscurity to the Grammys; from opening slots in clubs to headlining Red Rocks — but there is no way they were disappointed with last night’s performance.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals‘ form of blues-infused rock ‘n roll was the perfect kick-start. Performing an energetic set to an already full house, it was hard to tell who was having more fun…the 9,000 dancing fans or Grace herself. Blonde hair, mini-dress and legs for days, she was a hot mess up there and on a mission to make sure everyone else was as well. Grace and her band from Vermont have been keeping busy while in The Centennial State, opening for Kenny Chesney and headlining an Ogden show as well as supporting The Avett Brothers. Medicine comes to mind as a stand-out in an overall impressive set.
John Denver was cited as a major influence to The Avett Brothers before being inducted into the Red Rocks Hall of Fame during an extended introduction which included an appearance from Governor Hickenlooper (apparently a big fan) . Denver sold-out the venue 19 times over the years and the brothers paid further tribute later in the night with a cover of Back Home Again, posing unspoken questions — will The Avett Brothers be honored by another up-and-coming band 20 years from now? Were we witness to the first of many appearances at the Rocks? I would place my bets on ‘yes’ to both questions.
The main event came just after 9:00pm with the one-two kick of Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise and Tin Man, two of the strongest tracks off I And Love And You, before treating the faithful to Colorshow from 2006‘s Four Thieves Gone. Scott and Seth took turns in the spotlight, seamlessly transitioning between guitar, banjo, piano and vocal duties — but the real magic existed in the harmonies and touring member Joe Kwon‘s erratic, spastic cello action. Bob Crawford and Jacob Edwards, on stand-up bass and drums, rounded out the crew, bringing the total to five herky, jerky bobbing heads. These guys literally looked like they were filled with helium and the only way to keep their feet on the stage was to play their hearts out.
January Wedding went through an ebb and flow as the breeze turned into a light wind — swirling the sounds between the monoliths — but even from the back rows the vocals were still discernible. This band projects such an unexpected confidence that you can’t help but wonder how the smaller clubs ever held their sound. For those of us that were not in-the-know during those years, Red Rocks provided the perfect introduction to what an Avett Brothers performance is capable of.
The acapella, harmonization on Shame led into Paranoia in B-Flat Major, another track off Emotionalism, before the John Denver tribute. Kick Drum Heart had thousands of hands clapping and feet stomping, bringing the energy level to a new high before taking it down a few notches for a solo version of Murder In the City. ‘we’re workin’ on new material for ya’ll as we speak‘ introduced a preview of what’s to come with Never Been Alive before giving Jacob Edwards a break during a bluegrass jam session — And it Spread, I Killed Sally’s Lover and Distraction #74 . Seth performed a solo version of In the Curve to a hushed crowd, hanging on every word. If Talk On Indolence was the dance party, I And Love And You was the aftermath and Will You Return? was the send-off . ‘will you come again…I surely hope so‘
Like the title of the first song, I have to admit I came into this show with a head full of doubt — doubt that the recent severe weather would give us reprieve from the storms, doubt The Avett Brothers would be able to entertain me up in the 48th row and doubt I would enjoy the older material that I was unfamiliar with. I am happy to report all doubt blew away with those early evening thunderstorms. ‘there’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light…and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it‘ I would be frightened of those who do not believe in The Avett Brothers after last night’s performance.
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
Go to Sleep
Paranoia in B-Flat Major
Back Home Again (John Denver cover)
Kick Drum Heart
Murder In the City
Never Been Alive
And it Spread
I Killed Sally’s Lover
The Prettiest Thing (David Childers cover)
In the Curve
Once and Future Carpenter
Pretty Girl from Cedar Lane
Talk On Indolence
I and Love and You
Will You Return?
Blue Ridge Mountains Blues (traditional)