I'm back in Los Angeles for the second weekend in a row, but this time for (ostensibly) a family gathering. You know me, though--I will carve out a few hours for my entertainment needs. Thus, I headed over to Largo, where Chris Thile was wrapping up a short series of solo shows in the L.A. area. While I didn't see any of the preceding engagements and, thus, have no points of comparison, I have no problem decreeing that he saved the best for last.
Chris Thile, Largo at the Coronet, January 28, 2010: I've seen Chris Thile in several guises now: with Nickel Creek, with the Punch Brothers, and as a guest at Jon Brion's show. Though I already had a good idea of Chris's versatility, he still provided plenty of surprises over the course of this gig.
Chris first showed up to help out Gabriel Kahane, the opener, who happened to be Chris's friend and neighbor as well. Amid several jokes invoking Josh Groban, they managed to squeeze in some music, but soon it was on to the man of the hour.
It should come as no surprise that Chris drew from his extensive discography, including his work as part of the aforementioned Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, as well as his solo pieces, for a good chunk of the set. Nor should it be a shocker to learn that he targeted numerous traditional and old-time titles popularized and/or written by the likes of the Louvin Brothers and the Stanley Brothers. Even the Fiona Apple song has become a semi-staple for Chris, both with Nickel Creek and in one-off appearances.
But Johann Sebastian Bach--or, rather, his pieces written for the viola, but interpreted through the mandolin--turned out to be the star and the inspiration of the night. Since my knowledge of classical music is pretty much limited to long-ago viewings of Impromptu and Immortal Beloved, the closest you'll come to specifics in this blog is the setlist pictured here. However, what you won't see reflected on that sheet of paper is any mention of Chris's expert transitions, weaving together all those influences that have poured into his music and embodying the very definition of "cross-disciplinary."
Chris pulled up a couple of friends for his main set, including former bandmate Sean Watkins, but the real eye-opener was Bela Fleck. The two of them improvised and entertained for a good 15 or 20 minutes, touching on a bunch of things I can't name, with an occasional foray into more mainstream territory as well. I don't know if they've tried it before, but it never felt labored or awkward. In fact, it came across like a typical Largo collaboration: respectful, charming, and atypical.
At the end of the main set, Chris mentioned for the first time a follow-up round in the Little Room, so we hurried over and took our seats. The special guests streamed in for this performance, including some Largo mainstays, but at least one new face as well: Ed Helms on banjo! Rounding out the crew were Benmont Tench, Fiona Apple, Glen Phillips, and once again, Sean Watkins and Gabriel Kahane. Jon Brion was invited to join, but he stated his preference to watch from the back. However, he helped encourage the Mclusky medley, so his touch wasn't entirely absent.
Nonetheless, they rolled out jazzy standards, a couple of Radiohead covers, and a bunch more old-time tunes. A week and then some after the show, the finer details have escaped me, but if you need titles, I can report that they opened with the traditional folk song "In the Pines," Glen Phillips handled the vocals on "Exit Music," and Fiona returned for "Walking After Midnight." The rest of the selections? Well, you'll have to show up next time and find out for yourself.
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