Ed. Note: This review was written by photographer Jason Wolter.
The Avett Brothers Verizon Wireless Theater May 20, 2011
Friday night's Avett Brothers show started out much like any assignment would for me: In the pit photographing the Brothers' opening salvo and then drifting off to the back of the venue to take in the rest of the band's set. But about five songs in, I became aware that this was not going to be a typical show for me.
"I keep telling myself that it will be fine/ You can't make everybody happy all of the time" sang Scott Avett as Rocks Off Sr. approached me, letting me know that the assigned writer for the show had taken ill and abruptly left the building. Not only would the good folks of Houston be left without a recount of the Avetts' first show in town since 2007, but all my hard work trying to get that perfect shot would be for naught.
So, in an uncharacteristically selflessness act, I volunteered to pull double duty and review the show as well. What follows is my first review ever, and possibly last, so please bear with me.
The Avetts hit the stage Friday night greeted by a packed house at the Verizon Wireless Theater. It's been almost four years since the band had blown through town, and it was clear that while the things that endear them to their fans - energy, interaction, genuineness - were still present, this was a different band.
Now road-hardened tour veterans from the Carolinas - banjo player Scott Avett, guitarist Seth Avett, bassist Bob Crawford, cellist Joe Kwon - the Avetts now benefit from full-time drummer Jacob Edwards instead of the brothers splitting that duty between them. Their sound, which started as an alt-country/bluegrass/pop-punk car crash, has now been fine-tuned to a more radio-friendly, digestible version of their former selves by producer/guru Rick Rubin.
Opening with a kickdrum-stomping version of "And It Spread" from 2009's I and Love and You, the brothers' enthusiasm could hardly be contained as they pogoed their way through an almost two-hour set. It was a good representation of their last three or four albums, delving as far back as Carolina Jubilee for "I Killed Sally's Lover" as well as treating the crowd to the as-yet-unreleased "Once and Future Carpenter."
They also paid homage to fellow Carolinian, and Crawford's bandmate in the Overmountain Men, David Childers with a cover of his "Prettiest Thing," and touched on their bluegrass roots with Earl Scruggs' "Blue Ridge Mountain Blues" and Doc Watson's "Down In the Valley to Pray."
While this Houston crowd was slightly more attentive than most, the ever-present dull roar of conversations was brought to an abrupt silence when the Brothers came out front and center to perform a captivating rendition of "Murder in the City." Scott Avett, a recent father for the second time, changed up the song a bit to reflect his "newborn" devotion to his latest addition:
Make sure my son knows that I loved him/ Make sure his mother knows the same/ Always remember there is nothing worth sharing/ Like the love that let us share our name."
But it was during the anthemic "I and Love and You" and "Head Full of Doubt" that the Avetts' newfound, radio-friendly sound really hit its stride. Cell phones and lighters were held high while the crowd sang along.
Girls were kissed, tears were shed, grown men swayed arm in arm, all was right in the pre-rapture world. Towards the set's end, Scott Avett noted that they had skipped Houston "a few times" but were so grateful for the turnout and they would never pass over the Bayou City again.
After Friday's show, let's hope not.
Personal Bias: I'm a big fan of these guys, but I'll have to admit after seeing them several times, their brand of high energy entertainment does tend to take away from the overall performance. I think the songs and musicianship suffer at times because of the "over-enthusiasm".
Overheard In the Crowd: "That's terrible... you got tased!?!"
Random Notebook Dump: "Is he really beat-boxing?"
And It Spread Distraction #74 Go to Sleep January Wedding Paranoia In B-flat major Slight Figure of Speech Salina The Fall Will You Return Blue Ridge Mountain Blues Kick Drum Heart Colorshow When I Drink Prettiest Thing (David Childress cover) Murder In the City Once and Future Carpenter I Killed Sally's Lover I and Love and You Head Full of Doubt Laundry Room
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Ballad of Love and Hate Down In the Valley to Pray