Avett Brothers bring the fireworks on New Year’s Eve

by Ryan Snyder

The Avett Brothers’ New Year’s Eve spectacular at the Greensboro Coliseum wasn’t the Triad’s overall most attended show in 2012, not even by a North Carolinareared act. Eric Church and J. Cole both headlined to larger crowds in the same building this year, but the 13,500 that helped the Concordians cap off their most successful year ever nonetheless, witnessed what was by definition a statement performance. Not including their often unreckonable festival sets — this past summer’s Bonnaroo 2012 main-stage performance comes immediately to mind — that figure set the group’s personal best for attendance at a single show. Not bad given that they were doing this on rinky-dink prop stages and flatbed trailers 10 years ago.

Of course, there were a handful of uncertainties coming into the night, all of which were addressed without quarrel. First and foremost being: Would enough people, on this most contested of evenings, turn up in a room three times the size of where the band played their last New Year’s Eve show for this one-off gambit to pay off? Sales were reported to be relatively modest until a massive push in the days leading up to the drop-dead date, and ultimately, they certainly did. It’s likely that a new Greensboro tradition may have arisen because of it.

Then there was the question of whether this folk-rock band, known for their glassy production appeal and recent leanings on record toward doe-eyed, Newman-esque birdsongs, could invoke the volume befitting a room that earlier in the year had the Red Hot Chili Peppers summoning the darkest of Funkadelic’s riffs and the Who performing one of the loudest rock records ever. Also, would their hand-picked opener, the even more subdued Amos Lee, be able to do the same? Once again, yes on both accounts. Lee imbued his hour-long set with a thrust unheard on the best of his laconic number one album Mission Bell and the underappreciated Supply and Demand. He reimagined Leadbelly’s rendition of the old prison tune “Ain’t No More Cane” as electrified country blues good for both the coffeehouse and Crazy Horse, but he wasn’t done with covers. He tried to offer explanation for his twanged-out take on Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls”, but practically realized mid-sentence that it justified itself.

“I’m gonna do this to show y’all…whatever. Just whatever,” he said.

“This is just a good-ass Queen song.”

Whereas Lee relied on amps to swell his soft rumble of a voice, the Avetts brought the room down to their level when they weren’t relying on raw physicality. For more than two hours, they stomped, picked and shouted in dashing white suits with their parents watching calmly from the side, conquering all corners of their stage and catwalk, the top of a solo kick drum and an outpost on the other side of the room for the intimate back porch moments. There was no bad seat in the building — their journeyman ways made sure of that.

The opening full-band arrangements — including cellist Joe Kwon, bassist Bob Crawford, drummer Jacob Edwards and a keyboardist — sounded massive, bullhorned by more amp stacks than were utilized at their summer White Oak show, but the inflamed New Year’s crowd nearly overwhelmed in singing along to opener “Head Full of Doubt/ Road Full of Promise.” The brothers matched them in intensity, swilling energy drinks through almost the entirety of the opening stanza, focusing the buzz into instrumental breakdowns and suave breakdances.

Their tremendous talent aside, effort is their calling card, and there was no surer indicator than Kwon’s frayed bowstrings only a few songs in, especially given that he didn’t appear on all of them.

The evening was not without minor miscalculations, however. Their cover of Jim Croce’s indelible “Operator” was succeeded by an almost interminable bout with bass feedback as Seth Avett carried on through “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” The band’s perpetual state of animation also made any visual effects superfluous, which was why the two washed-out screens of fireworks flanking the main stage and the big reveal of the third before midnight didn’t quite pack the intended effect. The crowd, clapping along as Scott Avett stomped around the beat of “Laundry Room,” didn’t seem to notice.

Their jammed-up “Geraldine” landed just outside the pre-midnight sweet spot and melted away into a melancholic “Auld Lang Syne” as hundreds of white balloons beach-balled around the room, their pops sounding distinctively like fireworks. Again, somewhat superfluous, because the Avett Brothers had no trouble making their own.