Great Crowd, Great Music, Great Night

January 17th, 2011

Punch Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – January 15, 2011

On Saturday night at The Bowery Ballroom, Punch Brothers, a bluegrass outfit by way of Brooklyn, hosted p-Bingo, in which, according to them, “you can expect to find the Brothers trying out new material, improving existing material and appropriating material that they wish was theirs.” The band is made of five guys with the talent of 10. And even when played live, their music is as tight as a drum.

The chatty frontman (and mandolin player) Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek, revealed how happy he and the rest of the well-dressed band—Chris “Critter” Eldridge on guitar, Paul Kowert on bass, the smooth-voiced Noam “Pickles” Pikelny on banjo and Gabe Witcher on fiddle—were to be playing The Bowery Ballroom by comparing it to Carnegie Hall. And it’s hard to imagine a crowd at that venerable midtown venue being any more respectful and attentive than Saturday night’s audience. Those in the sold-out room hung on every word and each note, joining in to sing, clap and stomp, and it must’ve been the fewest instances of people texting and taking photos at a show since doing those things became so popular.

The two-hour performance included originals like “Punch Bowl,” “Next to the Trash” and “Rye Whiskey” and such covers as the wonderfully harmonized “Paperback Writer” and a terrific “Big River” with the openers, the Secret Sisters. Punch Brothers are great entertainers and supremely talented musicians, and their music simultaneously comes off as old-timey and contemporary. If you’ve never checked out a bluegrass band, start with this one. —R. Zizmor