PORTLAND – Maybe music can save us from ourselves.

The Avett Brothers certainly give hope to that notion. Scott and Seth Avett write beautiful and mostly optimistic songs that suggest they are wise beyond their years.

They sing them with a frenzied energy befitting their youth, but theirs are worldly songs of substance.

On Thursday at the State Theatre, the Avetts inspired their fans to sing along with lyrics that promote basic human decency and compassion.

It’s heartening to hear 1,500 people in a unified voice supporting the brothers on songs such as “January Wedding,” as sweet a song of devotion that’s come our way in a long time.

“She knows which birds are singing, and the names of the trees where they’re performing in the morning,” Seth sang, accompanied by the brothers’ flock.

The Avetts are something like a caffeinated bluegrass band on steroids. They play mostly acoustic instruments — banjo and guitar, primarily — with the spirit of punk rockers.

Scott and Seth sing equally well, and trade off lead vocals from song to song and sometimes within a single song.

One handles one verse, the other the next. Their harmonies are pure and natural, which was particularly true on “Shame,” perhaps their best-known song.

The brothers are animated performers.

Seth Avett punctuates his lyrics with hand gestures and wild body movements.

He was best on “Tin Man,” spitting out the lines, “And so it goes a man grows cold, some would say a man grows strong/ They tell me life grows short/ I say the road only grows long.”

He shuffled around the stage, kicked drum cymbals and punched the air.

Scott Avett comes off as intense, clenching his eyes shut as he sings.

Thursday’s show felt like a lovefest. When tickets went on sale a few months back, they were gone in hours. The Avetts tour and play all over, but their trips to Maine are infrequent.

Anticipation was heightened, and the energy of the crowd was palpable.

The audience mixed young and old, and men and women equally. Fans stood side by side on the floor and in front of their chairs toward the back of the hall. The seats in the balcony were packed solid.

After a brief opening set by John Oates — half of the ’70s pop masters Hall and Oates — the brothers arrived on stage at 9 p.m., accompanied by Joe Kwon on cello, Jacob Edwards on drums and Paul Defiglia on bass. (The band’s regular bass player, Bob Crawford, skipped the gig to attend to the birth of his child back home in North Carolina.)

For the next 90 minutes, they tore through a smattering of songs that spanned their decade-long career. They opened with “And It Spread,” followed by “Paranoia in B Flat Major,” a super-fast Doc Watson tune, and “Colorshow.” All were presented with a running-in-place energy, with the crowd hopping and bobbing and the players weaving and moving with their instruments.

Dismissing the band, the brothers closed the show with an a capella version of the gospel song “Down in the Valley to Pray.” One arm around the other, they sang into a single mic at center stage.

As Seth departed, someone in the audience tossed him not a long-stemmed rose, but a beautiful rhododendron bud that was just about to open up. He stuffed it into his shirt and walked off with a mile-wide smile.

It was a moment of pure joy. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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