The Avett Brothers have graduated to a status that is becoming exclusive. They have become a band that appears to be in the music business for the long haul, that is drawing crowds of thousands of fans, all of whom are familiar with their entire catalog and who consider the Avetts an integral part of their music world.
All that was evident Friday night, when a crowd of about 4,000 attended the band’s show at the Cricket Wireless Amphitheater in Bonner Springs. By my count, it was the band’s largest crowd to see it in this area, larger than the sold-out show at Crossroads KC last summer, which drew close to 3,000.
Friday’s show lasted two full hours, and throughout the evening the multi-generational crowd, which included a large number of couples (one of which got engaged during the show), sang along and danced along to a set list that comprised more than two dozen songs about life, love, romance and heartache and included a diverse array of country, folk, pop and rock anthems, ballads and hymns.
The Avetts are brothers Scott and Seth, both multi-instrumentalists and lead vocalists, plus Bob Crawford, who plays standup and electric bass, and cellist Joe Kwon. On tour, they add a drummer, a violinist and a pianist/organist. Their sound is no-frills and organic. But even during the slower numbers, there is a palpable energy onstage. During the rowdier numbers, like “Slight Figure of Speech,” that energy goes sky-high and spreads to the audience before them.
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The set list went back to the “Four Thieves Gone” album, the fourth of their eight studio albums, released in 2006. It precedes by three years the breakthrough “I and Love and You,” their first Top 20 album. But no matter what they played or how they played it, each song was greeted with an ovation of recognition and with singing along.
They bolted out of the gate, starting with “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” a dusky acoustic country-folk anthem, then two from “Emotionalism,” their most popular album: the indie-poppy “Die Die Die,” then “Shame,” a rollicking back-porch country-pop number infused with banjo and lathered with harmonies. Next came “Distraction No. 74,” which started the first, hearty sing-along of the night.
The population onstage changed throughout the show. At times only the four band members were onstage; at times only the Avetts. It kept the mood elusive and varied. They delivered two covers and both were highlights: “The Race Is On,” a George Jones classic, and Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star,” which aroused the expected hometown roar.
Other highlights: the uber-poppy “Kick Drum Heart,” which ended with a Skynyrd-like jam; the frenetic “Slight Figure of Speech”; “Left on Laura, Left on Lisa,” which started off as a low-tempo ballad and erupted into something much rowdier and stormier.
The five-song encore was a highlight, too. They started with “Cluck Old Hen,” an old-time Appalachian banjo/fiddle tune, then “Colorshow,” another mix of country, folk and rock, then “Live and Die,” which prompted such a loud sing-along it felt like the perfect finale. But they had two more: the title track to “I and Love and You,” which prompted more singing along, and lots of slow-dancing, from the crowd, the “Morning Song,” a ballad that recalls the heyday Jayhawks and that nicely book-ended the show’s opening song.
That one is from last year’s “Magpie and the Dandelion” album, so it’s one of their newer ones. Yet this crowd, without prompting, sang back the chorus right on cue, as if it was something very familiar, something they’d heard many times before and will hear many times again.
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise; Die Die Die; Shame; Distraction No. 74; Another Is Waiting; Down With the Shine; The Race Is On; Vanity; Kick Drum Heart; Never Been Alive; Left on Laura, Left on Lisa; Go to Sleep; Kansas City Star; The Ballad of Love and Hate; A Father’s First Spring; Backwards With Time; February Seven; Slight Figure of Speech; Laundry Room; Life. Encore: Cluck Old Hen; Colorshow; Live and Die; I and Love and You; Morning Song.