Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TVD Package Deal

New column! New writer! New Tuesdays! —Ed.

The Punch Brothers, Friday, November 12th, Strathmore Music Hall, 8pm (on the nose)

I’ll have a whiskey.

Ties loosened, feet tapped, and yelps—random and inspired, echoed through the pristine sound-ship, The Strathmore, as we jumped in with ‘Next to the Trash’ sailed past ‘Watch At Breakdown’ and through ‘Punch Bowl.’ These upbeat honky-tonk (turns out it’s hyphenated) tunes kept the unknowledgeable portion of the crowd interested (me) and had enough ‘jamming’ for the PB regulars (my seatmate.)

'Don’t Need No' boasts about drinkin’ for free and having a lovely female bar tender take him home, 'Missy' a sad love song about a woman had (not really had) and lost—this band admires complex, and shifty female leads (and questionable relationships at best.) And the award for favorite lyrical line uttered during the show “I went to a little gypsy at a fortune telling place / She read my mind and then she slapped my face,” delivered with solid, light-hearted blue grass clapping, and ‘yippees’ to follow.

In 'O Santo De Polvoro' the instruments played the melody and sang the chorus and the hook. No words needed—all strings. ‘Me and Us’ reminded me of a suspense thriller, shot in black and white, or maybe a Sherlock Holmes intro. It was a rolling fog; creepy, and full. Fortunately, they warmed us up again with 'Alex,' light hearted pop gem about another psuedo-important love interest (which should be receiving a fair amount of radio play.)

I sat with a Punch Brothers fan, she will be referred to as ‘the expert’, who informed me of her obsession with the 40 minute, overly-ambitious, four movement, unheard live “Blind Leaving the Blind,” moments later Chris Thile uttered the word “excerpt” and ‘the expert’ nearly rocketed from her seat and I knew I was about to hear something rare.

They did not disappoint. This piece may change a listener's mind about bluegrass. The four movements are epic, but this most commonly requested section is requested for a reason (harmonies and the journey; a great music story).

They followed it smartly with a traditional, 'You are my Flower' by The Carter Family, a duet between the bassist (Paul Kowert) and fiddler (Gabe Witcher). Followed shortly by 'You Are,' one of the brightest spots with Chris Thile’s voice sounding controlled, crisp, and clear.

The Punch Brothers performed equal parts love song, jam attack, barroom stomps, covers (their traditional Radiohead cover). No breaks—all the slight pauses were filled with inter-band ribbing (mostly Noam Pikelny on banjo) mocking Chris about one thing or another with his deep resonating Johnny Cash-like voice) occasional song origin related tales, and consistently inappropriate jokes made by the awkwardly charming mandolin player/lead vocalist. (One about another musician losing a bet and as a result was forced to shave off, and eat, his own beard. Must be a Bluegrass thing.)

'Rye Whiskey' may make the band sound better but it made my heart beat louder and heated up the Strathmore which in all cases, could use it. They chose to play the popular 'Rye Whiskey' after the standing plea of claps.

The Punch Brothers have it all—technical skill, a charismatic front man with a unique voice, years of experience, and they could not have faked that sort of fun. Fun, which they played and squeezed from their instruments and channeled into the crowd.