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The Avett Brothers make the leap

TD Garden, Boston, March 8, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Avett Brothers have been on an upward trajectory, from going the indie route and building a following through heavy touring clubs of their blend of country, bluegrass, rock and more to a major label and hitting arenas.

While hard to envision this kind of popularity of the band not too many years ago - that reflected the listening tastes of people, not the quality of the music - The Avetts were up to the task in a varied, typically high-energy two-hour gig.

If expecting a paint-by-the numbers, been there, done that type of show, forget about it. The Avett Brothers went to extremes in switching up their set list from night to night. At this show, The Avetts played 10 different songs from the previous outing at Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.

The Boston show featured songs from nine different albums, ranging from "A Country Jubilee" in 2003 to "Magpie and the Dandelion" plus four covers.

The Avetts mix it up stylistically and vocally throughout with the emphasis clearly on the music because the staging was simple with a backing screen for videos. Seth Avett (the taller of the brothers) took lead vocals on the lead-off on the well done "Another Is Waiting" followed by the far more obscure "Gimmeakiss" with both Seth and brother Scott singing to "Pretty Girl From Chile" with Scott assuming lead vocals.

Scott took on lead vocals far more, but during some songs, the two would trade leads or sing harmonies, as has been their trademark for years. Each brings his own voice to the proceedings as this is not quite the blending of say The Everly Brothers.

Each Avett pours his range of emotions to the songs. Scott tends to be the more emotive singer, but this is a band more than the vocals. Fellow Brother Bob Crawford helped set the rhythm section on upright and occasional electric bass.

Cellist and long-time unofficial member of the band Joe Kwon was not as physically active as usual (he was sick, according to Seth Avett and not quite as given to jumping up and down as observed numerous times), but that did not affect his ability to fill out the songs time and again. So did drummer Mike Marsh and keyboardist Paul Defiglia.

As for the covers, give The Avetts credit for going what would be left of center for them. Instead of edgy, obscure covers, they went very mainstream with a credible, fun reading of John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and a tender, heartfelt rendition of the late Jim Croce's "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)" with Seth Avett handling the vocals.

Old Crow Medicine Show may have turned in their performance yet in Boston. The Nashville-based bluegrass, old time band easily made the jump from much smaller venues, such as the House of Blues, to the big stage.

What helped most of all was the song selection. OCMS tended to focus on more up-tempo songs, such as "Alabama High Test" and an instrumental.

Lead singer Ketch Secor sings quite well and is a good front man, while also playing a mean fiddle (he also sat in for a bit of The Avetts' set).

The close of the 45-minute set was stellar with Woody Guthrie's "I Hear Them All" segueing into "This Land is Your Land" and back to "I Hear Them All," "Wagon Wheel," the song Secor wrote with David Rawlings and a big hit for country singer Darius Rucker, "Cocaine Habit/"Tell It to Me" before a fitting cover of "Tom Petty's "American Girl," played as an encore (the band never left the stage in between the final set song and "American Girl").

OCMS drew a very enthusiastic, well-deserved response.

The night closed out a lovely encore of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with both bands filling the stage, a great idea since their sounds mesh well together" and a cover of the doo-wop hit of The Spaniels, "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnight." A bit different sound-wise, but the choice played to the time of the night and the strengths of both bands.

The big stage is not for every band, but OCMS and The Avett Brothers both proved that they were ready.