Everything about the Avett Brothers has gotten bigger since I last saw them at their rain-soaked Gallivan Center show in 2011, and that was obvious watching their sold-out gig at Red Butte Garden Wednesday night.
The band's set was super-sized, reaching nearly 30 songs by show's end. Their sound has expanded beyond their acoustic roots into even more bombastic, electrified rock (at times). And that increasingly epic sound is made possible by the addition of three extra musicians to the core Avett Brothers four of Seth and Scott Avett, bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon.
The inclusion of a full-time drummer, fiddler and pianist/organ player to the touring Avett Brothers lineup allowed Seth and Scott to inhabit their co-frontmen roles to the nth degree Wednesday night. The Avetts have always been an insanely energetic live show, and that energy feeds a frenzied fanbase that has also increased in size dramatically the past few years. Now, with seven musicians on stage and a large catalog to draw from, Seth and Scott reveled in dancing around the stage, exhorting the crowd to sing along and goading their backing musicians to let their own showmanship shine.
Wednesday's show built from an acoustic foundation early on--via show opener "Live and Die" and songs like "Paronia i n B Major," "Go to Sleep" and "Down with the Shine"--into a cacophonous ending of songs like old fave "Kick Drum Heart" before the band even reached the encore.
Sidenote: the rain held off through the entire show, literally until the band left the stage just before the encore. I was packing and running for the exit when the band's first encore song offered one of the best surprises of the night--a cover of Harry Belafonte's "Jump in Line (Shake Shake, Senora)," a tune Danny Elfman joyfully adapted for the Beetlejuice soundtrack. Another fun surprise was a verse of The Jeffersons theme song when opener Nicole Atkins joined the Avetts on stage toward show's end.
The Avett Brothers don't spend a lot of time chatting up the crowd, aside from the requisite "thank you" and "we're glad to be back" kind of stuff, but that certainly doesn't detract from their shows--all the more time for music. The crowd was rapturous from the start, staying on its feet as the band veered from delicate balladry to roadhouse stompers, touching on a range of genres along the way.
The highlights were numerous. "Pretty Girl from Chile" early on was beautifully done. "Paul Newman vs. The Demons" got the band into full "rock" mode for the first time. "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise" from the band's I and Love and You album was a epic performance, as always. "When I Drink," "I Killed Sally's Lover," "Love Like the Movies" and "Slight Figure of Speech" all killed.
Things got a bit sloppy at show's end, both on stage and among the drunken crowd suddenly facing a rainstorm. But there's no denying both band and fans walked away happy from what is sure to be remembered among Utah Avett Brothers as probably their best show here to date. It was definitely the "biggest," in myriad ways.