February 17, 2013

Reviewed: Punch Brothers

House Of Blues, Boston, MA

It is not often you encounter a true genius, but last night at the House of Blues, one stood on stage playing the mandolin. Last year, Chris Thile was a recipient of a MacArthur genius grant for his prodigal mandolin abilities and variety of musical endeavors. 

The mandolin maven led his group through a lively setlist that included Radiohead and Beach Boys covers. He has managed to surrounded himself with incredible instrumentalists, all of whom had their fair share of time to solo in the spotlight. They announced to the audience that this was their biggest show ever, revealing why all five of them were accustomed to being huddled around each other, never stepping outside a small carpet on stage. Their old-timey charm hit the audience like a bear hug that never let go. Mr. Thile was introduced to me years ago via Nickel Creek, his San Diego-based pop-bluegrass trio. When I saw them perform on their 2006 farewell tour, the encore included an epic mandolin rendition of a Bach piece for violin. Thankfully, this is growing into a trademark move for Thile and he obliged again, running through a lightning fast Bach partita like only a virtuoso could. 

Since his Nickel Creek days, Thile's songwriting has grown much more complex and innovative, now mixing wacky time signatures, dissonance, and classical influences with a classic bluegrass sound. Even though they all shredded with ease on their respective instruments, it was clear they were having as much fun as the crowd. Plenty of improvisation and extended bluegrass jams kept the show lively and proved their skills to everyone there. I have a feeling that if I saw them again tonight, the show would be completely different, giving a unique feeling to each performance that is rare these days. 

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