Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Punch Brothers – Park West – 3/1/2012
I thought Punch Brothers was a machine shop on the west side of Chicago or a bad improv group so I was less than intrigued when a friend invited me to see them. But I keep an open mind about stuff and found out that it’s a band led by Chris Thile. I wasn’t sure, but didn’t he play second base for the Mets back in the 80’s? No? Apparently he was in Nickel Creek, a band for whom several friends got raging boners, but left me feeling less than satisfied. However, I checked out some of the Punch Brothers stuff and found it, well, punchier than what I had expected. I’m also going through a bluegrass phase lately and have been debating whether to purchase a mandolin or a banjo so that I can rightfully suck at another genre of music. I’m leaning toward the mandolin since it’s much smaller and probably easier to carry around. I can also finally dust off that Hooters’ songbook that’s been sitting on my shelf since 1985. You remember The Hooters… that Philly band that did “All You Zombies” and “And We Danced” before they opened all those stupid Hooters restaurants? But I digress.
Sometimes I overestimate the number of friends I have and purchase 20 tickets for a show and end up having to sell 19 of them on Craigslist in exchange for faulty curling irons and used copies of Kirk Cameron’s autobiography. Recently, though, a friend has come through for me a few times so that I’ve only had to sell 18 extra tickets, so I decided to repay the favor and take one of her 20 tickets to the Punch Brothers.
I got there about halfway through the opener, Aoife O’Donovan, and was informed that she’s “pleasant”. An odd description but spot on. Too bad Scrabble doesn’t allow proper nouns because her name would be a killer play when you end up with a rack full of vowels. Just missing the U and sometimes Y. Ah, yes, back to the Punch Brothers.
So the Punch Brothers aren’t really brothers, they didn’t punch anyone or serve punch, and they don’t have a drummer. But they did bring an upright bass player, a guitarist, a banjo-ist, a fiddler off the roof, and Chris Thile, the said mandolinist.
Going to a Punch Brothers show is like watching the snowboarding events at the Winter Olympics, except it’s not as cold. The boarders all do some crazy shit and even though it’s a competition they’re out there partying, cheering each other on and all go apeshit every time someone nails a triple-lindy in the half-pipe. Same thing… individually the Punch Brothers are immensely talented, but as each one takes a solo or is featured in a tune the other four are dialed in and smiling in disbelief that they are in the same band with these other fuckers. Chris Thile flailed on that mandolin like I’ve never seen, and then takes a ringmaster role as he physically moves the music through and across all the other members. And they all deliver. But even more “pleasant” is how they all mesh on every song. Their timing is dead on, through the barnburners and the ballads, and they nail tempo changes and creative arrangements as if they’ve been playing together on the front porch all their lives. This was a fun show. Cracky drank the punch.