Though some of the oeuvre was lost at the Manchester festival, hearing the spot-on phrasing of the trumpets, the chill-inducing swelling of the two trombones, or the brown-note honk of the tuba on PAs like mid-size sedans was nonetheless electrifying. The crowd was almost immediately held in their sway, as they stamped with bare feet, sang, shouted and lunged for Mardi Gras beads the band hurled into the air.
The Soul Rebels are never content to let a crowd slip into the role of passive listenership. They’re constantly enlisting them in a raucous call-and-response: “When I say ‘Soul,’ you say ‘Rebels!’ “Soul!” “Rebels!” “Soul!” “Rebels!” — as though they were playing the weekly spot in Uptown at Les Bon Temps Roules, writ very, very large. Yet they surprised too. We didn’t recall the expertly delivered hip-hop lyrics.
They were a welcome counterpoint to The Kooks — a microcosmic pocket where, for only an hour, a sound raised in the variegated Petri dish of the Deep South reminded us there’s an organic power in the brass-combo that neither the synth nor the electric guitar can touch.
A few hours later, we caught The Avett Brothers on the same stage. First, we’ll preface this review: We’d heard a few hits of theirs in passing, but not enough to form an opinion about the Americana group. It was during their set we discovered something that actually disappointed us: We're not fans. Now, before you flame us, let us clarify: We don’t hate them. Technically, they’re competent, and we love the rollicking jangle of a banjo. Their vocal harmony during “Murder in the City” was gorgeous. Seth Avett’s voice in “January Wedding” was remarkably sweet and true. We especially enjoyed their cover of Doc Watson’s “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues.” The crowd, too, we couldn’t help but notice, was held in their thrall. They screamed as one throat as the Avetts announced each song, as though each was a favorite.
But, still. To me, they were the Mumford and Sons of 2012. We are cognizant of the fact that they wield an adoring fan-base that knows every lyric, for whom there was some ecstatic religiosity to the experience. I get it, but I don’t get The Avett Brothers.