Tag Archives: Chris Thile


Nickel Creek – Beacon Theatre – April 29, 2014

April 30th, 2014

Nickel Creek - Beacon Theatre - April 29, 2014

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


Punch Brothers Take a Look Backward and Forward

December 31st, 2013

Punch Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – December 30, 2013

The arrival of New Year’s Eve is the singular moment in the calendar when we’re equally looking backward and forward. This makes it the perfect time to catch the Punch Brothers, who take music and styles from the past and make them new and equally make modern sounds classic. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom was the second of three sold-out shows in what is taking root as an annual holiday tradition. A heavy curtain behind the stage played tricks with the light, the deep ruffles alternately absorbing and reflecting, evocative of another time and place. And as the band took the stage, Chris Thile wished the eager crowd a “happy New Year … almost!”

Punch Brothers opened with their version of Josh Ritter’s “Another New World,” a gorgeous silence filling the space between the instruments: banjo, mandolin, violin, guitar feeling as timeless as ever. A new song, “Magnet,” simultaneously felt both New Wave and bluegrass, Thile silly and suggestive. An instrumental was dark, the music a step of phase, like they wound a bluegrass breakdown a quarter turn to the left with impressive solos from Gabe Witcher on violin, Noam Pikelny on banjo and Chris Eldridge on guitar before a short back-and-forth between Paul Kowert on bass and Thile on mandolin. These profound moments of beauty alternated with looser bits, the Punch Brothers’ humor always of the inside-joke variety, large portions of the audience ready to participate on songs like “Patchwork Girlfriend,” shouting along at the right time without provocation.

It was two pairs of covers that summed up the Punch Brothers’ forward-and-backward dichotomy. Mid-set they established their indie cred with an Americana take on Elliott Smith’s “Clementine” and followed it with a fantastic modernized rendering of a Claude Debussy piece. The latter was an impressive display of talent, all five musicians immersed in the piece, making it their own. The encore paired a solo Bach piece from Thile with a cover of Americana legend John Hartford’s “Old Joe Clark.” Thile, who resisted taking too many outlandish solos during the set proper, let it all out during the Bach tune, signaling that if you’re going to be self-indulgent, you might as well go all the way. Watching him contort both the music and his body, making the difficult look easy and the very old feel very new, wasn’t just art but performance art. “Old Joe Clark,” on the other hand, was just some good old-fashioned picking, and lest we forget where these guys come from, they tacked on a strong bluegrass version of Gillian Welch’s “Back in Time.” From “Another New World” to “Back in Time.” Forward and backward—happy New Year … almost.
—A. Stein





A Birthday Gift for Elliott Smith

August 12th, 2013

Elliott Smith Tribute – The Bowery Ballroom – August 10, 2013

Last Tuesday would have been Elliott Smith’s 44th birthday, and it still feels strange to live in a world without him. Almost 10 years after his death, there was a palpable void on Saturday night at The Bowery Ballroom. Perhaps it was because so much else of Elliott was present: his family, friends, fans and, most important, his music to bring everyone together to honor a cause close to his heart. The night, emceed by Rhett Miller of Old 97’s, marked the end of a four-concert stretch of shows across the U.S. in honor of Smith’s birthday, organized by Smith’s sister Ashley Welch. All proceeds went to New Alternatives, a New York City–based organization to help homeless LGBT youth. Welch shared her personal story of how her brother was the first person she told she was gay. Welch knew him for his big heart, and she mentioned how when he was living in New York City, Smith would stuff bills into the shoes of homeless people he saw sleeping on the street, never anything less than a $20.

Saturday’s show featured many guest performers and friends—some who knew Smith well and others who knew him only through his music—sharing their stories. The night’s first set came from Smith’s former manager JJ Gonson’s band Meat Industry. Smith’s close friend Mary Lou Lord brought out with her the big star of the night, her 14-year-old daughter Annabelle, herself a big Smith fan, who sang and played through “St. Ides Heaven” and “I Figured You Out.” Young Hines traveled all the way from Nashville for the night, performing Smith’s most well-known song, “Needle in the Hay.” And Katarina Guerra sang her way through beautiful renditions of “Twilight” and “Between the Bars,” managing to bring out that haunting gorgeousness of Smith’s singing style.

The legendary Bob Dorough covered “Waltz #1” in addition to one of Smith’s favorites, a song he penned for Schoolhouse Rock!, “Figure 8.” Sirius XM DJ Jenny Eliscu shared her story about Smith’s inane ability to cheer up other people and how he stood by her side after her date stood her up at The Bowery Ballroom for a Neutral Milk Hotel show in 1998. Christina Courtin played two of the night’s biggest sing-alongs, “Angeles” and “Rose Parade.” Unannounced guests included Joseph Arthur, who played “Alameda” and was later joined by Pat Sansone of Wilco, who played “Waltz #2” and “Say Yes.” The night ended with everyone returning to the stage together to perform “Happiness” joined by every voice in the audience. There was only one missing. —Dan Rickerhsauser

Photos courtesy of Peter Senzamici | petersenzamici.com


A Remarkably Good Show at The Bowery Ballroom

April 10th, 2013

Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau – The Bowery Ballroom – April 9, 2013

Chaos theory states that a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia affects the weather here in New York City. Through some incomprehensible series of actions and reactions, the two completely unrelated phenomena essentially communicate with each other. I think a similar incomprehensible series of actions and reactions explains the communication going on between the seemingly unrelated musicians onstage last night at The Bowery Ballroom. In this scenario, the parts of the butterfly and the weather were jazz-pianist extraordinaire Brad Mehldau and mandolin aficionado Chris Thile.

From the beginning, high-level interplay was on display, a long introduction that felt like a free-form-improv instrumental provided the opportunity for both musicians to assume the role of the butterfly—multihued, delicate, light—and the weather—unpredictable, blustering, occasionally torrential. These long fugues were interrupted by lyrics and vocals on songs like “Chopped Down Your Shade Tree” from Thile, bringing the concept of song and composition to the music before disintegrating back into superlative two-man jamming and then back again. Pieces stretched to 10 minutes and beyond, the duo showing no signs of running out of things to talk about, themes to pursue and then deconstruct. One of the few fully instrumental songs pushed the limits of their talents, simultaneously layering an Irish reel with blues and free jazz, like Ornette O’Coleman from Memphis for mandolin and piano, shifting to a mandolin swing reminiscent of David Grisman and finally relenting to jazz-standard territory with Mehldau stretching the exercise to a full 20 minutes.

The highlights within an essentially highlight-reel show were the covers. Each began as if just an instrumental vamp on a familiar melody before fully exploring the material to its fullest. These included Gillian Welch’s “Scarlet Town” and an instrumental version of “Long Black Veil.” Anyone familiar with Mehldau or Thile wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the centerpiece of their show was an awe-inspiring, exploratory take on Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” which had both men in top form, weaving in and out of the song’s themes perfectly. The set closed with Fiona Apple’s “Fast as You Can,” featuring a vigorous back-and-forth between the two, the whole set coming to a head in deep musical conversation. Perhaps the best for last, the encore closed with a perfect version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” the jamming concise and on point, the audience, for once, literally not having to think twice about the chaos going on in front of them. It’s alright. —A. Stein




Perhaps the Start of a New Tradition

December 31st, 2012

Punch Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – December 29, 2012

These things have to start somewhere. In absence of Patti Smith’s longstanding New Year’s Eve run at The Bowery Ballroom, on Saturday night Punch Brothers kicked off what we can only hope will become an annual three-night out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new run at the corner of Delancey and Bowery. With Chinese lanterns strung across the room and cozy lights above the stage, the mood was celebratory, as rhythmic “We want an encore!” clapping spontaneously broke out before the band even took the stage. This was an arena-rock-primed crowd for a bluegrass band: What gives?

When Chris Thile and the band took the stage, opening with their cover of Josh Ritter’s “Another New World”—featured on their new Ahoy! EP (starting a show-long call-and-response of “Ahoy!”)—the reasons for the crowd’s enthusiasm were apparent. The song and the following set were without-a-net string music, with an openness worthy of a jam band, interplay reminiscent of great jazz quartets and songwriting rivaling your favorite indie-rock freak folk. The audience went silent during the songs before erupting like a canned laugh track in between, eagerly applauding Noam Pikelny’s banjo figure eights or Thile’s masterful mandolin playing. The set drew from Punch Brothers’ entire catalog and beyond. “New York City” was an early ode to their hometown, while “Heart in a Cage” prompted a happy sing-along for a maybe-not-so-happy song, and “Song for a Young Queen” was one of many giddy instrumentals wrapping up multiple genres in a singular Punch Brothers sound.

The second half of the 90-minute show was one long highlight reel: the band premiering a nice cover of the Beach Boys“Surf’s Up” (a song they “wished to God” they had written), paying tribute to the Seldom Scene’s Mike Auldridge, who had passed away earlier in the day, with “Through the Bottom of the Glass,” and handling an awe-inspiring movement from Thile’s “The Blind Leading the Blind.” During the last one, as the mathematically beautiful music unfolded, I was reminded that this bourbon-sipping picker is also a certifiable genius. As he led the band through a fantastic encore that hit on all of the quintet’s strengths, Thile mentioned his New Year’s resolution was to “drink more and better whiskey.” I’d like to add to that: Start a new New Year’s Eve tradition. —A. Stein