High above the nosebleed seats at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, miles away from the clouds, was the scant imprint of a moon that would take hours to fully reveal itself. And while it was just barely visible during the late afternoon, looking more like a worn out rubber stamp then a light in the sky, for a while it joined the dugouts, stands and fences in forming the basic skeleton of a ballpark whose moveable pieces would later be transformed by a stage on wheels and a seven-piece band. Although right from the start of June 3rd’s 4:05 matchup between the Phillies and the Giants, reminders of the highly anticipated post game show from The Avett Brothers were everywhere. The stadium itself -half in the sun, half in the shade and filled by thousands- saw the band’s shirts mixed into the sea of Phillies hats and jerseys worn by ticketholders, making the forthcoming concert feel about as omnipresent as all of the LED signs around announcing their performance. And at just after 7PM, a small army of a staff arrived on the ground after the winning hometown team left it, rapidly setting up before the band –and the crowd- took to the field.
Walk through the parking lot of any Avett show and you’ll see an infinite number of out of state plates. It’s a small detail that speaks volumes about their live performances, which takes them –and apparently much of their audience- around the country and beyond up to several times a year. But that profound, habitual and rare commitment from listeners is one that’s been hard earned. Since 2002, countless tours, nine full-length records, two EPs and four live collections have shown them to be a band that is always genuinely themselves, a quality that has made the sprawl and range of their sound feel like a natural, freewheeling trip through a catalogue fully stocked with roots rock essentials. Although their live shows elevate each token of rowdy energy and poignant expression with a lightening sharp spark as bright as any stadium lights, making you feel the depth of their songs in a way that makes any weight of vinyl an inevitable second to witnessing every verse and chorus unfold in real time.
Literally rocking the stage when they started their set with the rush of “Kick Drum Heart,” the platform beneath them moved when they did, often making it look more like they were out at sea and hitting waves than putting on a show in the middle of a baseball field. Mixing in a number of covers throughout the night, they followed “Kick Drum” with Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” as a tribute to and celebration of their friend, the late Chris Cornell. Wielding the spooky beauty of the original, the band’s rendition felt layered and full, lovingly framed around the indelible melody and vocal delivery Cornell originally bestowed upon it. Building on that intensity for “Satan Pulls The Strings,” Scott Avett, Seth Avett, Bob Crawford, Joe Kwon, Mike Marsh, Tania Elizabeth and Paul Defiglia each played furiously, wringing every shred of chaotic, twisted energy out of the song’s volatile arrangement. The stage itself shook violently, as if the Earth was about to separate and split apart right at the foot of Marsh’s Ludwig drumkit. At times, Seth Avett could even be seen grabbing his microphone while he sang in an attempt to keep it still, only to watch it bob up and down just as wildly as soon as he let it go. The entire scene was the band at their most delightfully unhinged, with the repeated refrain of “God is in the song and the Devil’s in our feet,” emerging as a practical command, nudging the cheering crowd to go crazy right along with them.
Running parallel to that raw, wild spirit that seeps into so many of their heavier cuts, is a tenderness that seems to cling to every radiant measure of music they create. But what’s most powerful is how those arrangements work in tandem with their lyrics. Boiling things down to their very core, The Avett Brothers are the type of succinct, lean songwriters who can reduce an emotion and all that it entails into just a few well-placed words. Sung in voices heavy with conviction, those words feel lived in and honest, resonating so deeply with listeners because they carry the weight of authenticity. Although for every hardship and hard truth, there is an underlining sense of positivity that persists. Bringing those characteristics to the forefront in Philadelphia, the band doused strong performances of songs like “Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise” and “Morning Song,” with visions of pain, flashes of clarity and seeds of hope.
Walking to the very edge of the stage midway through the latter, Scott Avett put his hand to his ear and his mouth to his mic before addressing the crowd. “I need your help,” he said, urging the audience to sing along even louder. Making his way onto the ground, he shook hands with as many people as possible before breaking out into a run. The band played on as Avett moved across the brilliant green grass towards the masses that filled the stands, touching hands with everyone he passed as an entire stadium kept on singing. Rejoining his bandmates in time for the track’s final bars, he jumped up and down as the music swelled and the song faded into the sound of wild applause. In the end, it was just one of the many moments during their career spanning set that the entire ballpark seemed to pause and take a collective breath, blissfully soaking up every last drop of the magic in the field before it was gone with the sun.
Article: Caitlin Phillips