The Avett Brothers were supposed to play in Houston back in mid-April, roughly four years since their last appearance in town, but that concert was abruptly postponed due to the birth of Scott Avett’s second child. After a month-long delay, the band arrived at a crowded, but not quite sold out, Verizon Wireless Theater. The Avett’s steadily-growing profile received a significant boost with the Rick Rubin-produced and polished album I and Love and You, and they presumably got another bump earlier this year when they played at the Grammys. Regardless of how they got there, the band now has the pull to fill a 3,000-seat theater, which is impressive for an Americana group.
Opening the show was the LA-based Truth and Salvage Co., who seemed energetic and fun. Sadly, though, I missed the majority of their set, and I would’ve liked to have seen more from them. Scott and Seth Avett took the stage shortly after 9:00 pm along with the rest of the band, bassist Bob Crawford, cellist Joe Kwon, and drummer Jacob Edwards. They kicked things off with a bouncy take on I and Love and You song “And It Spread”, which got the crowd moving and singing along right away. The set was dominated by songs from that album and its predecessor Emotionalism, but the band found time to work in some older material, an unreleased song, and a cover or two along the way.
When the band slowed it down early in the show to play “January Wedding”, couples all around the floor danced quietly together. Then the audience went back to bopping along to more upbeat songs like “Paranoia in B Flat Major” and “Slight Figure of Speech.” Even with a regular drummer, Scott and Seth still have a kick drum and hi-hat, respectively, to provide percussion on songs where they don’t use him. It captures a bit of the feeling of street buskers even though they’re playing really big rooms these days. The two actual Avett brothers are highly energetic performers and congenial front men. They made sure to thank everyone for coming out and apologized for not getting to Texas all that often. They also referenced their ‘07 Houston show at the Engine Room, and revealed that they were all suffering from the flu at the time. I’ve been to the Engine Room, and it’s a horrible sweatbox, so that must have been an incredibly difficult show to play with the flu.
The band’s other two official members are no slouches when it comes to performing, either. Bob Crawford bounces around on the upbeat songs regardless of whether he’s playing the upright bass or bass guitar, while Joe Kwon roams his half of the stage with his strapped-on cello, playing his head off. The cello’s versatility allows Kwon to fulfill several musical roles during the show, at times mimicking a fiddle and at other times playing softer, orchestra-like accompaniments. In the upper register of the instrument, some of his parts even sounded like a soft trumpet.
The second half of the set brought out some of the band’s best songs, showcasing them at both their most hard-hitting and quietest. The thumping “Kick Drum Heart” led into a swirling interlude that eventually blended into the dark and noisy “Colorshow”. The pretty, contemplative “Murder in the City” was followed by the laid-back new song “The Once and Future Carpenter”. Then the band reached back to Carolina Jubilee for the raucous “Sally’s Lover”, which they played as fast as possible. From there it was time for “I and Love and You”, which had the crowd singing along at the top of their lungs.
The main show closed on a quiet note with the brothers playing “Laundry Room” as the audience listened attentively. Well, mostly attentively. As good as the crowd was overall, a few girls couldn’t help themselves, yelling “I love you, Scott!” or “I love you, Seth!” during the quiet moments, while a handful of passionate dudes just had to scream “WOOOO!” at the top of their lungs. The encore was similar, as Seth Avett played the beautiful story-song “The Ballad of Love and Hate” all by himself, as the same handful of audience members shouted out amongst roughly 2,8000 others listening raptly. Rather than close things out on another up-tempo song, the band said goodnight with Scott, Seth, and Bob singing the traditional spiritual “Down in the Valley”. This was my first experience seeing The Avett Brothers, but it certainly won’t be my last.