I don't want to make any promises, but my concert schedule may look more normal this year -- that is, I'll go to shows in town, and there could be some variety in the acts. Let's not get carried away, though; I'm not about to line up for the latest blogosphere sensations, and a certain amount of overlap is to be expected, which kind of explains how I made my way to see the Punch Brothers at the Fillmore.
Punch Brothers, the Fillmore, March 8, 2012: As has been well documented in this blog, I clear my calendar for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass every year, but my preferences tend to tip more hardly than strictly. Not that it has to be one or the other, but the Punch Brothers embodied this combination more than almost any other group I've seen recently.
This is hardly a new revelation, as I've seen the Punch Brothers and Chris Thile in several formations, including with Nickel Creek and as a solo artist, not to mention Gabe Wicher's visits to Largo. I honestly can't keep track of how many appearances and combinations I've caught at this point, though if I had to pick one notable engagement, it'd be the Little Room show from a few years ago. At each and every date, the artists ably showed off their appreciation and mastery of multiple genres and styles, a tradition that extended to the Fillmore.
I don't know the Punch Brothers' catalog well enough to report on actual song titles or the setlist, but even a casual listener could hear the difference between covers, the group's more traditional titles, and their version of pop music. Sure, they could kick out the likes of "Rye Whiskey," but they had no problem coaxing out the charming "Patchwork Girlfriend."
This breadth, combined with their snazzy threads and crowd-pleasing banter, called to mind an old-fashioned variety show. I couldn't help but think of similar setups I'd seen at Largo, except with fewer guests popping in. Also akin to those dates, they followed a familiar pattern of allowing each musician a solo turn.
Don't be mistaken, though -- the Punch Brothers have a frontman, and Chris Thile stepped up to that role with banter, responses to crowd interjections, and physical and vocal cues to his bandmates, as well as the majority of lead vocal duties. At the top of the evening, Chris introduced the opener Aoife O'Donovan with a heap of compliments, and the two took over for a song they'd co-written for the Goat Rodeo Session.
I love seeing bands make their Fillmore debut; they're, well, adorable as they take in the venue's history and bask in the glow of playing in such a legendary club. The Punch Brothers were no different, as they paid their respects to the building's incomparable track record.
Even better, the crowd did its part, and more than one band member remarked on the crowd's enthusiasm. Apparently, we'd done a good job of buying tickets, as evidenced by the requisite Fillmore poster handed out at the end of the evening. But even before that proof was offered, you could hear it for yourself, as we spontaneously clapped along to various tunes and egged on the group. This was the aspect of the Punch Brothers' performance I may have missed in earlier shows: that boisterous, unadulterated appreciation I hadn't quite picked up at Largo or Hardly Strictly. This is the reason you go to gigs.
But in case you need more justification to see the Punch Brothers live, you may be interested in the centerpiece (arguably) and virtuoso peak of the gig: the Radiohead/Gillian Welch one-two punch. I'm not a Radiohead fan, but the Punch Brothers are, as they've made clear. Additionally, Gillian Welch tunes are a mainstay of the band's sets.
Anyway, around the last third of the show, I noticed an abstract-sounding instrumental that I figured had to be a cover. They then segued into a song I know much better: "Wayside/Back in Time," probably chosen for the line referencing San Francisco. My hunch was confirmed by Noam Pikelny in his follow-up remarks, where he also recommended we check out the original artists. *wink*
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