May 24th, 2011
Loopster Live: The Avett Brothers at Verizon Wireless Theater
The Avett Brothers touched down in Houston Friday night at Verizon Wireless Theater. The largely youthful, well-scrubbed crowd was clearly grateful that the show had been rescheduled after last month’s announcement of cancelled Texas dates and held no grudge for the additional anticipation.
Opening with “And It Spread,” the performance combined infectious, energetic string playing, vocals that would have overwhelmed many sound engineers, and a touching earnestness. The wave of rootsy, tent-revival bands a la Mumford have generated a cynical, knee-jerk response from many indie-snobs and critics. It’s hard to reconcile the Bill Maher anti-religion secularism required for advanced hipsterdom with the comforting, and dare I say inspiring, message that the The Avetts’ deliver. That’s not to say that the subject of faith was broached. The notions of hope, respect and love – within the family, amongst friends – were polished and honored. As such, the Celtic and Bluegrass Gospel elements within seem more genuinely embraced than some of the somewhat ironic forms coming out of Southern California. I half expected to see a collection plate being passed. (That’s right, I’m trying to stir up an East Coast/West Coast Southern-Alt-Rock-Folk-Revival schism/feud.)
Mainstream Country acts saw a similar wave of traditional bluegrass gospel sounds being used by the Statler Brothers and the Oak Ridge Boys. The Avett Brothers throw in some elements of rock and honky tonk that will make rock radio a slightly more friendly home than country stations, but perhaps more importantly, they demonstrate that the industry’s need for labeling will be rend by those who are willing to explore the roots of their influences with no concern as to where that might lead them.
I’ve usually taken to rebuilding the setlist of a performance while writing a review. This has, at times, helped recreate the impact of a show. With The Avett Brothers the visuals of frenetic playing, crowd sing-alongs, and generally positive vibe are not easily recaptured by a listing of songs. The extension of enthusiastic playing to the dedicated cello (Joe Kwon) and upright bass (Bob Crawford) was a sight in and of itself. Yes, a cellist and violin bassist – I told you before, the Avett Brothers are not easily defined. Fortunately the Avetts’ have several live recordings that allow you to get a sense of how sincere these guys are in their lyrics and their appreciation for the audience is captured in their interactions.
The Houston crowd was largely well behaved. I witnessed fewer than 3 beer cups flung, and it took at least an hour for the first. Perhaps a generation raised on “Kidz Bop” will be better behaved than the “Up with People” movement could manage. I appreciated the unusual politeness and hope this crowd’s behavior spreads. (At least until they start public hangings of baby boomers for the deficit they’ve been bequested.)
By the time the hand-clapping, foot-stomping sing-along stopped, this cynic was ready to give The Avett Brothers sermon a few more spins. I found I had a smile on my face and a little more appreciation for my fellow brothers and sisters, particularly the latter who have decided that Easter is the start of white pants and skirt season. Thank you, Lord.
Openers Truth & Salvage Co. deserve more than an honorable mention. However, dear reader, let’s acknowledge your attention span, sorely tested even now. Fortunately, they will be returning to Houston in a couple of weeks, performing at Fitzgerald’s on 6/3. Go and witness.
Production: Sound was surprisingly good, particularly given the dynamic range of the vocals and the variety of string instruments. If not in the front rows, I generally try to stand as close to the soundboard as possible on the assumption that the mix is best at the engineer’s finger tips; and the board was situated at the back of Verizon, not the most typical set up for this particular venue. Maybe that helped. Lighting on the other hand… most touring acts of Verizon-size have larger lighting rigs. Friday’s show seemed sparse. Not Echo and The Bunnymen dim, but a little too orange candlelight for me. Perhaps the decision was made to give the roadies a break. Crew had to break down after 11pm and hump it to Gulf Shores, AL to set up for a late morning sound check less than 12 hrs later. Show biz, bitches!
(Speaking of Gulf Shores — Upon learning that Craig Hlavaty of Houston Press’ Rocks Off would be attending Hangout Fest, I was first incredibly jealous, but then concerned that My Chemical Romance would not be getting the attention and praise they so properly deserve from their biggest fan. If you happened to see that show, please send him your comments and cell phone pix in order that he won’t feel he missed anything.)
Smokey McDougal’s Take: I like my alt-southern rock a little more hydr-ated. DBT, my older brother’s Molly Hatchet, and of course Black Keys. Truth & Salvage were tight! Avett was just too manic, and I expected my old youth group leader to confiscate my shit at any moment. NOT a partying crowd.
Mix-Tape Mash-Up: Avett Brother = The Silent Comedy (featuring the Zimmerman brothers) meets The Proclaimers (twins).
Did you say twins?: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aleksandrf/5750951679/in/set-72157626663301139
Homework: What’s your favorite band featuring siblings? Leave a comment, best (subjective) answer will get a pair of tickets to Truth & Salvage at Fitz.
Truth & Salvage Co. are reminiscent of (it’s tempting to say The Allman Brothers, however…) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young meet Pink Floyd (it’s in the keyboards, says Smokey).