At one point during the Punch Brothers’ performance at Vinyl Music Hall, life became surreal within one song. Performing their cover of Josh Ritter’s “Another New World,” Chris Thile’s voice echoed like a ghost whispering into an empty room, his mandolin providing the ever-quickening heartbeat as the band stepped in, supporting the spirit. As the song intensified, the crowd was rendered silent, breathless while every note grew in weight and power. Resolution was given by a soft “a cappella” verse that was joined by a subtle accompaniment that escalated into a thundering instrumental explosion sparking the once hushed audience into galvanic hand-claps and shouts that continued well past the song’s conclusion.
My first experience listening to Chris Thile came in the form of a Nickel Creek press kit that came to the office where I was employed as advertising manager of the university paper. Along with the standard press package of promo shots and bios, each kit came with the all-important CD of the artist’s music. This particular CD was produced by Alison Krauss and cleverly gave the traditional bluegrass sound a modern twist.
With Nickel Creek declaring their farewell in 2006, the musically gifted Thile continued the musical exploration that began for him as a child growing up in California. Thile started playing mandolin at a young age and won the National Mandolin Championship when he was twelve years old.
Walking his own path with the creation of the Punch Brothers in 2006, Thile’s passion for classical and bluegrass music have been on full display with support from Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Paul Kowert (bass) and Chris Eldridge (guitar).
On this night of their tour, Thile’s mastery of the mandolin combined with the highly skilled art of his band mates created a theatrical experience for the Vinyl Music Hall crowd as each song travelled a dynamic curve of stillness, tension, exposition and resolution during their dramatic compositions.
-Michael L. Smith