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The Avett Brothers in Greensboro: mutual love

Avett Brothers photo gallery

GREENSBORO -- Toward the end of the Avett Brothers' epic Monday night show, Seth Avett looked out over the new-year's-eve throng gathered at Greensboro Coliseum. "Thanks for having us at your party," he said, demonstrating admirable modesty by acknowledging the Avetts' bond with their fans. But let's make no mistake about who the hosts were.

Arguably North Carolina's best growth industry, the Avetts draw rabid crowds of faithful fanatics worldwide. They had a large 2012 with a top-10 album and Grammy nomination, and more big things are on the way in the new year (including a spot at next week's gubernatorial inauguration). But this show made a pretty spectacular take-away for the year just past, a wide-ranging two-hour-plus performance by one of America's best live bands.

Following a solid 55-minute opening set by Amos Lee, the Avetts came onstage done up for the occasion in matching white suits, which did not keep them from matching their audience's fevered intensity. Seth Avett spent much of the show's opening stitch airborne, jumping up and down, and the 15,000-voice accompaniment on "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise" was something to hear.

Somehow, the Avetts make an arena feel as intimate as a front-porch hoedown. They don't scream quite as often as they used to, but Monday's show still rocked plenty hard, swinging between wild-eyed frenzy and pensive ruminations. They might be the world's first heavy-metal jugband and if that sounds weird, you'd just have to see it to get it.

Scott Avett moved between piano and banjo, occasionally blowing harmonica and hopping on top of the kickdrum at the front of the stage. Bob Crawford went back and forth between standup and electric bass, while Joe Kwon was his usual dervish on cello. And Seth busted out some four-way-hips dance moves that got over on sheer exuberance.

While the full-band arrangements were great to hear, there's still something ineffably cool about the Avetts when they strip down to the core trio of Seth, Scott and Crawford, which was the configuration for a mini-set starting with "Paranoia in B Flat Major." They also ventured out into the crowd to play a handful of songs on a satellite stage at the back of the arena floor, highlighted by Seth's cover of the Jim Croce chestnut "Operator" (proving that great songs are where you find 'em).

Back on the mainstage, the closing hoedown raveup of "Laundry Room" was my favorite part of the show, with Scott working the kickdrum as psychedelic lights pinwheeled across the arena's ceiling. They rocked up the jittery "Kickdrum Heart" with an almost metallic arrangement, ending with Seth on his knees beating the bejesus out of an electric guitar, and the folk-noir of "Geraldine" took us to the brink of midnight.

As the band vamped on "Auld Lang Syne," the crowd counted down the last 10 seconds of 2012. Confetti and balloons rained down, which turned the rest of the show into a collective game of volleyball -- punctuated with the sound of quasi-fireworks, as the balloons popped one by one.

The encore ranged from hopeful ("Salvation Song," with the Avetts' sister Bonnie out to sing) to furiously rocking ("I Killed Sally's Lover," in another acoustic-metal arrangement). Then they hit a note of quiet triumph with the majestic "I and Love and You" -- "three words that become hard to say."

But for anybody in Greensboro Coliseum as 2012 turned into 2013, it wasn't hard at all.

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