Back to basics with the Avett Brothers in Kentucky

The Avett Brothers
Bowling Green, Kentucky
September 29, 2018
Words/photos by Josh Mintz

As bands grow in popularity, the venues they perform at grow in size. For better or worse, it’s how the concert industry works – you’re always looking to play a bigger venue until you can’t any longer, which is how cities get skipped on tours and nostalgia acts end up playing state fairs.

It’s special being able seeing a band still capable of playing arenas in a smaller venue. When the Avett Brothers took the stage on September 29 at SKyPac in front of a capacity crowd of 1,800, no one yet realized how special of a night it would turn out to be.

The band put on one hell of a show. With fiddle player Tania Elizabeth out on maternity leave, the band has a pared down feel which was perfect in such an intimate venue.

Avett Brothers setlists have been fairly predictable of late. The crowd can generally expect “Head Full of Doubt,” and the band has consistently encored with “No Hard Feelings” at nearly every show except multi-night runs in the same venue, and they played both. But, the last few weeks, the band has been digging deep into their catalogue and dusting off rarities, and there were some jaw-droppers at SKyPAC.

The show opened with the Seth Avett-powered “Black Mountain Rag,” a great instrumental that frankly sounded a little odd since Avett played it on a Gibson Les Paul. The way the tune was arranged, an acoustic would have made more sense…but that’s nitpicking. From there the energy in the room started to bubble over, as the band broke out “True Sadness” and “The Fall.”

So many of the songs played over the course of the evening were perfect choices for the room. SKyPAC, a building that also hosts symphonies and Broadway shows, lends itself well to wooden instruments, and tunes like “Left On Laura, Left On Lisa,” “I Wish I Was,” and “Morning Song” are always great but were on another level with the perfect acoustics.

The two songs that set the night apart were both perfect choices for the room, also. Bassist Bob Crawford took turn on acoustic guitar for a solo take on “Letter to a Pretty Girl,” a track from Mignonette that had been played the previous two nights but not in over 7 years before that (and only 11 times ever).

The other surprise of the night was the next song – the equally rare “Black, Blue.” Seth delivered this gem (14 times ever, not in a year) to a silent, respectful room.

While the band seemed to make a concerted effort to fit the setlist to the room, there were plenty of rowdy standbys that brought the energy back up as the show ebbed and flowed between the gentle acoustic numbers. “Laundry Room” is always a crowd pleaser, and the aforementioned “Head Full of Doubt” has become more apropos with the political climate, as Seth has added his pantomime talking hand to the “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” lyric.

The best part of the night, though, was probably the band’s interaction with each other and the crowd. Some sibling bands just can’t make it work (The Black Crowes and Oasis come to mind), but the ribbing between the brothers shows the special bond they have. The smaller venue amplified it a bit – the band even referenced playing in smaller clubs when they were on the rise.

The concert turned into a mini stand-up comedy routine as the brothers ripped on each other and somehow worked Scott’s “unraveling” and the movie Old School into stories about past shows. Scott also stopped “Ain’t No Man” to instruct the audience that it needed the perfect falsetto to sing the “She is so pretty, he is so fine” part of the song.

The show ended in typical fashion – with the once-rare “Clearness Is Gone” and “No Hard Feelings,” two great songs that are probably reaching their best-by date in the setlists.

Across the board, it was a near-flawless show. There was something for everyone – the newbies to the die-hards. SKyPAC was an absolutely amazing venue – probably the perfect building for the Avett Brothers. It will certainly be a hard one to top for the band for the foreseeable future.

Black Mountain Rag, True Sadness, The Fall, Roses & Sacrifice, Left on Laura, Left on Lisa, Distraction #74, I Wish I Was, I Would Be Sad, Pretty Girl from Michigan, Vanity, Kick Drum Heart, Ain’t No Man, Paranoia in Bb Major, Satan Pulls the Strings, Laundry Room, Live and Die, Morning Song, Letter to a Pretty Girl, Black, Blue, February Seven, Swept Away, Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, I and Love and You

Encore: The Clearness is Gone, No Hard Feelings