Live review: Punch Brothers feat. Chris Thile @ the Fox TheatreBy Craig Randall | January 18th, 2010 | No Comments »
At first glance, you could actually mistake the Punch Brothers for a bluegrass band: the tight, semi-circle formation. The vintage suit, tie and vest combos.
And, of course, the banjo. But, you’d be mistaken if you thought the night consisted solely of traditional foot-stompin’ hillbilly. Experimental and orchestral, the music reflected the mash-up culture we’re in where musicians credit (and emulate) bands and genres outside their own. And not surprisingly, like the Julian Casablancas of bluegrass (young and cutting edge), Chris Thile & co. weren’t even five songs into Friday night’s set at the Fox before they covered “Reptilia” from the Strokes.
“Reptilia’s” lyrics include: “Our lives are changing lanes / You ran me off the road / The wait is over / I’m now taking over,” and you can’t help but compare the evolution of the rambling Punch Brothers to Thile’s former band, Nickel Creek, where polish and pop was standard. The Punch Brothers veer far from the confines of a simple fiddle-banjo-mandolin formula.
In Denver Post music editor Ricardo Baca’s interview with Thile, the musician spoke about the events that preceded and inspired “Blind Leading the Blind” — a four-part, 40-minute suite of rambling emotion and musicianship (from debut album “Punch”). The Punch Brothers introduced the third movement of “BLTB” in a semi-mocking tone: “This is a song about the big city… and about big love,” Thile said.
In the Denver Post interview, Thile also spoke about how “Punch” was more singularly his, whereas Friday’s show demonstrated how the next record (to be released) is more about collaboration with his bandmates; their influences, ideas and styles. Well, it’s time that someone out the soul music junkie in the group because two songs melded slow, jam-ish grooves with bluegrass musicianship to perfection. The first, “Missy,” was a gorgeous mandolin laden tune in which Thile sang a repeating, escalating refrain: “She told me, ‘Sit beside me.’ I told her twice, ‘Get thee behind me,’” over a quiet storm of violin.
The other came in the first of three encores, with Thile and fiddle player Gabe Witcher doing their best D’Angelo impressions, trading “oh” “ohhhh” “oh” “ohhhh’s” at each other into one mic and atmospherically transforming the audience to the set of the “How Does It Feel?” music video. But in typical Punch Brothers fashion, the dripping soul of this number ended and in five seconds flat, an all-out bluegrass assault (with said foot stomping) quickly overtook the romantic stylings.
The over two-hour set was what you might expect from a band coming into its own. Several songs lacked titles (or had working titles, at best) and was rampant with covers including one from Radiohead (from “Kid A” no less) and their take on bluegrass legend Norman Blake’s “New Chance Blues.” The crowd delighted in the unprecedented third and final encore when the band, passing a bottle of Jameson around, ended a bluegrass-gone-wild evening with Pavement’s “Stereo,” only reinforcing the “rotting infrastructure” of listeners perceived notions and expectations of the band and genre.
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Craig Randall is a Boulder-based writer and PR pro with an identity crisis. He credits both “Let Me Love You Down” and “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” as life-changing tracks. Check out his website.
Nathan Rist is a freelance photographer and a regular Reverb contributor. He hails from the mountains of Telluride, but he’s currently studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder.