Avett Brothers Bring the Folk, Get Heroic at Smart Financial Centre

Avett Brothers Bring the Folk, Get Heroic at Smart Financial Centre
Photo by Jason McElweenie
The Avett Brothers
Smart Financial Centre
August 18, 2017

“What makes a hero?”

That was the question posed by Seth Avett about halfway through his band’s two-hour performance at Smart Financial Centre Friday night. The younger of the two siblings who front the titular Americana-folk outfit didn’t have an answer for the crowd, but he said he and his older brother Scott had been discussing it earlier in the day.

Some people stand the test of time, he said, before launching into a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”

Instead of trying to channel the late Chris Cornell, the Avett Brothers put their own spin on the classic grunge anthem, faithfully performing the instrumentation while focusing on harmonies – a longtime strong suit of the group – to emphasize the choruses. When it was over, they received a standing ovation.

“Black Hole Sun” was one of about half a dozen covers performed Friday night. The Avetts peppered them into the extended set list between plenty of favorites from their nine studio albums.

The evening began with two cuts from last year’s True Sadness, both of which sounded better live than on record. Despite a general consensus from critics that much of the charm of the band's latest offering was obstructed by overproduction, the group’s live performance was straightforward and unadorned.

Forgoing the synthesizers, the Avett Brothers created all the sounds emanating from the speakers overhead with their instruments and voices. The result was something longtime fans have come to expect from the group, who seemed to exchange instruments between just about every song.

Photo by Jason McElweenie
At one point, Scott even dueled his banjo with Grammy-award winning violinist Tania Elizabeth before telling the crowd, “I think I lost.”

For “I Wish I Was,” the stage was abandoned save for Scott, Seth and Bob Crawford, who manned the upright bass as the North Carolina-born brothers serenaded the crowd from a single microphone.

One of the most fun tracks of the evening was “Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women.” Originally recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers in the late ‘40s, the song has been reimagined by Buck Owens, Jim Croce and Willie Dixon’s The Big Three Trio, to name a few. Peter Sellers once performed the song with The Muppets, and there’s even obscure reinterpretation by a Finnish punk outfit called the Outtakes.

Near the end of the show, Seth regaled the crowd with a story of his older brother walking around the parking lot in his underwear earlier in the day. Langhorne Slim, on tour with the Avetts, approached Scott with a cigarette in hand. Instead of commenting on his lack of pants, Slim simply said, “Nice briefs. Where’d you get them?”

True Sadness
may have marked a creative misstep for the Avett Brothers, but it will likely be forgotten in time in favor of the band’s many other memorable albums. The Avetts’ talent in undeniable, and if the group returns to the studio and does exactly what they did Friday night, they should be able to release plenty more great albums for years to come.

Photo by Jason McElweenie
You Are Mine
Satan Pulls the Strings
Morning Song
Country Blues (Doc Watson cover)
Living of Love
Paranoia in B Major
Die Die Die
Orion’s Belt*
I Wish I Was
I Would Be Sad
Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women (Sons of the Pioneers cover)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
Go to Sleep
Talk on Indolence
Part From Me
Live and Die
Laundry Room
Will You Return
Hammer Down (Magnolia Electric Co. cover)
Muder in the City
True Sadness
Ain’t No Man
I and Love and You

The Ballad of Love and Hate
Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise
I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan cover)
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Matt is a regular contributor to the Houston Press’ music section. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in print journalism and global business. Matt first began writing for the Press as an intern, having accidentally sent his resume to the publication's music editor instead of the news chief. After half a decade of attending concerts and interviewing musicians, he has credited this fortuitous mistake to divine intervention.
Contact: Matthew Keever