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Posted at 10:19 AM ET, 02/21/2011

In concert: The Avett Brothers at DAR Constitution Hall

By Chris Richards

avett brosThere was too much hammy energy from the Avett Brothers at Constitution Hall on Friday. (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

Shortly after The Avett Brothers - the bluegrassy, folk-rock troupe from Concord, North Carolina - shuffled onstage at a packed DAR Constitution Hall on Friday night, it was easy to do the math.

There are two Avett brothers: singers Scott and Seth.

And there are two Avett Brothers bands: One that delivers achingly handsome acoustic ballads with a steady hand and one that performs with such hammy, hyperactive urgency, it appears that everyone onstage really needs to use the men's room.

The prior greeted fans first, with Seth and Scott crooning "Murder in the City," a lovely, unplugged pledge to family values. The melodies brought goosebumps and the lyrics brought Super Bowl-touchdown cheers: "There is nothing worth sharing/Like the love that let us share our name."

But when the brothers were joined by the Brothers - bassist Bob Crawford, cello player Joe Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards - their tender sibling harmonies were scrapped for a night of screaming and shouting, hooting and hollering, romping and stomping.

avett bros

This is how the Avetts built their cult over the course of the last decade - with a kinetic live show that values sweaty beards over sweet melodies.

But in 2008, famed rock producer Rick Rubin signed the group to his American Recordings label and reined them in. The result was 2009's Rubin-produced "I and Love and You," an album of simple, plainly-sung folk-rock songs that built a bridge between Appalachia and Laurel Canyon.

The disc's most gorgeous tune was Friday's surging highlight: "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise," a number you may have heard the Avetts perform on the Grammys last week before they teamed up with Bob Dylan for a 21st-century singalong of "Maggie's Farm."

"There was a kid with a head full of doubt," Scott roared during the emotive refrain. "So I'll scream 'til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out."

After 23 songs, they still weren't out. His voice exploded into a shout or a scream on nearly every chorus (save for a two-song, catch-your-breath duet with Seth, mid-show), as he spent the night marching across the stage, banging his head, toting his banjo like Pete Townshend totes an electric guitar.

So why wasn't he playing one? Throughout the evening, the band pushed their acoustic instruments to their sonic limits, often turning resonant melodies into a crackly, sloppy din. It felt particularly noxious during "Go To Sleep," a sturdy campfire song that was rushed as if the band was speed-training for a summer on the Warped Tour.

If these songs were meant to be played with so much blood, sweat and gusto, why not pump up the volume and add some electricity? The banjo, cello and upright bass felt more like old-timey stage props than the tools required for the job.

If the Avetts had the opportunity to chat with Dylan after the Grammys, hopefully they asked him about going electric.

avett bros

avett bros

By Chris Richards  | February 21, 2011; 10:19 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  The Avett Brothers  
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Really? I'm pretty sure the Avett Brothers know what sound they're going for, and that includes the "old-timey stage props" they have on stage with them. Why would Scott switch to electric guitar if the song calls for banjo? The end of this review reads like a movie critic reviewing a play and suggesting the director change up the scenery more often.

Posted by: Caliber66 | February 21, 2011 7:02 PM | Report abuse

i tend to agree with chris' point, the manic strumming has always felt a little gimmicky to me. we get it, you play old timey instruments like rockers. that was fun and novel...3 years ago. the harmonies and simple singable melodies have always been the real draw. it doesnt have to be one or the other, banjo or strat, The Band did both and made it work.

Posted by: joshuasto | February 23, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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