The Punch Brothers, featuring mandolinist Chris Thile, performed a clean and flawless night of bluegrass to a nearly packed house at Trustees Theater on April 2.
Chris Thile, renowned for his previous progressive bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, has received a lot of attention throughout his career. Many consider him one of the greatest contemporary mandolin players of our time. When you hear Thile’s mandolin playing on a recording, it sounds like it must be a 60-year-old man playing with a lifetime of practice and experience. That’s why it comes as a shock to many that, despite being a 15-year veteran to the music industry, Thile is only 30 year old. But that hasn’t stopped him from accomplishing more than many do in a lifetime.
More impressive than his age is his ability to take an established genre, bluegrass, and make it something that’s accessible to the mainstream. No longer is bluegrass what your grandfather listens to on NPR early in the morning. Chris Thile has transformed it into an art capable of covering Radiohead songs.
Thile played along with his band the Punch Brothers, which is comprised of Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Chris Eldridge on guitar and Paul Kowert on bass.
The Punch Brothers performed many songs from their 2010 album “Antifogmatic.” Thile explained to the audience the namesake of the album: “Antifogmatic is an old term for a beverage … generally rum or whiskey … that a person would have before going out to work in rough weather to help prevent any … ill effects.” Audience favorites off the new album included “You Are” and “Rye Whiskey.”
Another audience favorite was The Strokes cover of “Heart in a Cage” off of their 2006 album “How to Grow a Woman from the Ground.” The Punch Brothers made themselves famous for these progressive covers on that album, including a White Stripes cover of “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground.”
Along with The Strokes cover, one of the last songs the Punch Brothers played was a Beatles cover of “Paperback Writer.” Covers can be risky, especially when it’s a band like The Beatles, but the Punch Brothers pulled it off gracefully.
The Punch Brothers left the stage. However, due to popular demand, Chris Thile came back out for an encore. This was the highlight of the entire night. Thile did a purely instrumental solo to a Bach concerto on the mandolin. The unique blend of genres and eras that Thile incorporates into his music is what makes him truly unique.
The performance was one to remember. In the past, they have been known to perform Radiohead’s “Morning Bell” and “2+2=5,” but The Beatles and Bach made up for it. The music was very tight, clear evidence of the technical proficiency of each of the musicians. It’s also refreshing hearing something different than the same genre an entire concert. How often is it that you can say you heard a bluegrass Beatles cover right before Johann Sebastian Bach?Contact Jordan Wannemacher.