There's a between-song declaration toward the end of the Avett Brothers' new live album: "Startin' to wonder why we ever even leave."
Given the enthusiasm coming from the hometown crowd on "Live, Volume 3" (Sony Music), which was recorded at Bojangles' Coliseum in Charlotte, it's easy to see why they'd feel that way.
They're back in Charlotte Tuesday night for a special - and sold-out - in-store performance and signing at Manifest Disc at 7:30 p.m.
The Concord trio hasn't been North Carolina's little secret for quite some time. Their last studio album, 2009's "I and Love and You," debuted in the top 20 of the Billboard charts - a showing they'll probably top with "Live, Volume 3." The new album was recorded in August 2009, shortly before "I and Love and You" was released. The live album's set list draws heavily from that album, even though it hadn't been released yet. Funny thing, the crowd seemed to know all of its songs already.
Scott Avett admits that the biggest challenge of making a live album was to avoid being self-conscious. That's hard to do when the recording light is on, especially in front of thousands of people.
"It's so tough to do a live recording," Avett says from a tour stop in Las Vegas. "Like when you're writing songs or making a record, you really try to fend off anyone who wants to discuss things like sales. That's just a toxic pollutant you have to avoid when you're trying to make art.
"And when you're playing live, you want to tap into real energy and pure emotion. So you have to fend off the thought that you're recording it..."
That's going to be an ongoing issue for the Avetts as they continue making the transition from regionally popular club act to arena-level headliner. But they're undeniably in the big leagues now, even though it was more fun in some ways playing for small crowds in clubs.
"You know, it used to be that I knew everybody at the show," Avett says. "Now there are so many there, I can't speak to what they're all there for. So it feels like a different responsibility, which will eat you up if you let it - that's just something else you have to fend off. You try to battle against thinking about the obligation of 'putting on a show' versus just enjoying playing."
As produced by Rick Rubin, "I and Love and You" took the Avetts to a new level artistically as well as commercially. It's an ambitious work with a broad emotional sweep, filled with great epigrams ("Tonight I'll burn the lyrics / 'cause every chorus was your name") and the sort of mythic grandeur The Band used to conjure up.
Following that album with something worthy will be a challenge, and "Live, Volume 3" makes a nice placeholder while the Avetts regroup. They had about two dozen new songs ready to go for a new album before deciding to shelve them and wait it out.
"We had a false start, where we pulled back and said let's make sure this happens naturally instead of just fitting it into our schedule," Avett says. "Our normal cycle is to hibernate, create and record during the winter months, so creative time is upcoming. Now we try to stay current with material, and we may have missed an opportunity with some songs we don't really stand behind emotionally anymore.
"Some are slipping away from us, which has always kind of happened."
So there might wind up being a "lost" Avett Brothers album, a set of songs that never see release on a studio set. But in the meantime, some of those bypassed songs might find their way into the band's live show. And given how widely bootlegged and YouTubed the Avetts are, those songs will make their way into the consciousness of the group's fan base.
"Lately, there's been some discussions backstage or on the bus about how we need to play these songs," Avett says. "Who cares if they never see an album? Let's just work 'em up. From when we started in the early 2000s, we've never held back and we shouldn't start now.
"We'd finish a song one afternoon and play it that night. Maybe we're going back to something like that."