By David Menconi
RALEIGH -- An Avett Brothers show is all about screaming, starting with what goes on out in the audience. The Concord-based folk-rock band has one of the most enthusiastic nations of fans in popular music, and shouting (not just singing) along is pretty much de rigeur at an Avett Brothers concert.
Onstage, meanwhile, Scott and Seth Avett do plenty of screaming themselves. And not just any screaming, either. Somehow they find worlds of cathartic possibility in the act of letting loose with howls that would wake the devil, screaming in terror, joy, exuberance, the sheer wonder of it all -- sometimes all at once, and often when you least expect it.
Friday night at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre was a regular screamfest with the Avetts in town, and it was all good. Singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile opened with a lively 45 minutes, highlighted by an excellent cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" (complete with cello solo). Too bad so much of the late-arriving crowd missed her set.
This was the Avetts' first headlining show in the Triangle in more than two years, and they drew a sizable crowd that was ready to explode from the get-go. Still, it seemed to take about a half-hour for everyone to get truly warmed up. After they went roaring into the rapid-fire cadence of "Distraction #74" about a half-hour in, everything clicked right into place. The rest of the show was pretty much lights out.
Avett Brothers songs are all sharp angles, full of unexpected twists and turns. They bounded about the stage with manic energy, especially cellist Joe Kwon (who would be worth having onstage just for the visual effect of his moves, let alone his playing).
Among the two-hour show's many highlights were three songs from the "Pretty Girl" series, including "Pretty Girl From Raleigh"; "Talk on Indolence," which concluded with a roll call of Raleigh clubs the Avetts have played in years past (Sadlack's, The Brewery, Pour House, Lincoln Theatre); the stately majesty of "Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise"; and a ragged yet beautiful reading of "Laundry Room," with a scream that last year's studio recorded version lacked.
Song after song, that screaming was the main event. Scott Avett managed to hit a tone in the neighborhood of Roger Daltrey's "Won't Get Fooled Again" climax on "Slight Figure of Speech," and it was contagious. Seth Avett smiled as the crowd howled during "And It Spread" and said, "We love you, too." Then he asked the crowd to scream again, and everyone complied.
Listen to the man.