1/27/2009 Punch Brothers @ Blair School of Music, Nashville, Tenn.
photographs by Laura Brown
Last night mandolin wunderkind Chris Thile and Co. played Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, in Nashville, Tenn. The company Thile keeps these days–since parting ways with top-selling bluegrass fam band Nickel Creek–are the so-called Punch Brothers, who backed up the mandolinist on his first post-Nickel solo How To Grow A Woman From The Ground and then became a full-fledged band on 2008′s Punch, from which the lion’s share of the night’s tunes were drawn. The folk classical four-movement composition “The Blind Leaving the Blind” was played in its entirety, with swathes of virtuosic musical interlude, three- and four-part vocal harmonies, and Thile’s love/loss musical theatre-esque lyrical melodies at play, sometimes all simultaneously! Other selections included Gillian Welch’s ode to Nashville “Wayside (Back in Time),” Wilco’s “Poor Places,” and the White Stripe’s “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” All in all, the brothers were in full form, lacing Thile’s chamber music with unreal bluegrass chops, and offering odd but funny stage banter, (ultimately leading to a final plea to buy their merch). Thile emerged from the evening as not only a wildly talented and inventive instrumentalist but as a budding voice in the school of American songwriting. And with nods to songwriters like Welch, Tweedy and Jack White, let’s hope Thile continues to evolve as a writer and begins finding the mainstream approach once again. Because we know chamber music just doesn’t sell like it used to.