Punch Brothers: Live at The Clay Center

By: Brendan

My only problem with the Punch Brothers concert at The Clay Center Sunday night was an over-familiarity with their 2012 album, Who’s Feeling Young Now, which is one of my most listened-to albums of the past few years. My eagerness to hear those songs led to some small frustration with the inventiveness of their set list. It was however, a very memorable concert.

Photo by Danny Clinch

Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan was a welcome solo opening act. Highlights from her set included “Lay My Burden Down” and “Beekeeper.” I also appreciated her mention of Irish singer Paul Brady having introduced her to “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” and the crowd welcomed a mention of local coffee house Moxxee.

The Punch Brothers kicked off with a Josh Ritter cover, “Another New World,” from their Ahoy EP. A a good choice, the wave of music built to climax until a tsunami of sound was unleashed. Chris Thile was amiable as always during his crowd banter, mentioning that since he’s only played here on Sundays, he’s not sure Charleston WV exists outside of that day. During “This Girl,” the seeming effortlessness of Thile’s efficiency with his mandolin was staggering. Paul Kowert’s double bass was given time to shine during a new instrumental “about beer” and Noam Pikelny exhibited his banjo expertise during “This Is The Song.” Thile then managed to get a cheer for Debussy, leading the group in “Passepied” from the composers Suite Bergamasque. He even sang a phrase from “Clair de Lune,” the preceding movement, in his introduction.

Photo by Danny Clinch

Aoife O’Donovan joined the five guys for “Here and Heaven,” which was one of two tracks on which she collaborated with Thile for The Goat Rodeo Sessions. Her voice was very welcome and I wish it had seasoned some more familiar Punch Brothers sings.

Photo by Danny Clinch

The one-quarter West Virginian, warm-toned-suit wearing Chris Eldridge fronted the group for a highlight of the evening, cultivating crowd enthusiasm with particular emphasis on the lyric “well, she ain’t much to see but she looks good to me through the bottom of the glass.” The song was perhaps most famously recorded by The Seldom Scene, a band featuring Eldridge’s father Ben.

Photo by Danny Clinch

The band returned to Who’s Feeling Young Now for “New York City.” I closed my eyes and basked in its light. For me, there’s something magical about that particular set of songs. You can get a taste here.

I was taken with Thile’s movements. At times he looked like a flatfoot dancer, at times like a tree wavering in the wind. Not since Natalie Merchant whirled around the stage at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center in 2006 have I been so captivated by a performer’s motion. The concert wound down with another new track, “Julep,” which reminded me of the Kent Haruf novel Benediction.

Another charming moment came at the encore. Responding to the crowd’s pleas for a Radiohead cover, Thile said “Would you believe we have one all picked out? Bands and their plans.” I was very happy with their choice, “The Auld Triangle,” which originated in a Brendan Behan play and was featured on the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. The concert concluded with one of their most popular songs, “Rye Whiskey,” with cries of “Oh Boy!” emanating from the audience.

Punch Brothers Official Site

These boys are busy. Gabe Witcher co-wrote and arranged some music for HBO’s True Detective. NPR is now streaming the new Nickel Creek (featuring Chris Thile) album for a limited time. Paul Kowart is featured on this new album with Brittany Haas & Jordan Tice. You can sample Noam Pikelny’s work outside the group here. And Chris Eldridge will soon tour with Julian Lage.

Some other notable Punch Brothers works include the song “Dark Days” for The Hunger Games soundtrack and three collaborations with Dierks Bentley on his Up on the Ridge album. And you can hear Punch Brothers live on Mountain Stage.

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Punch Brothers Promotional Photographs by Danny Clinch, Posted Here With Permission of None Such Records

Punch Brothers: Free Mp3s!

Guest Post By: Brendan

Who’s Feeling Young Now by The Punch Brothers remains one of my favorite albums of the year. You can download the studio version of the album’s wonderous opening track, “Movement and Location,” as part of a live sampler below…

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Mountain Stage: Bell X1, Paddy Casey & Punch Brothers “Gloria” Cover Mp3

The Mountain Stage blog is offering a full download of the group finale from the Bell X1, Paddy Casey & Punch Brothers concert (which I reviewed last May). All of that night’s performers participated in the cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”, and it was one of the best finales I’ve witnessed at the show.

Mountain Stage – Gloria (download page)

Mountain Stage Official Site

Mountain Stage: Paddy Casey, Tyler Ramsey, Brooke Miller, Bell X1, Punch Brothers

Sunday’s Mountain Stage show featuring Paddy Casey, Bell X1, Brooke Miller, Tyler Ramsey, and Punch Brothers was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. Not only were the performances – particularly that of the Irish boys – spectacular, but it was probably the friendliest bunch of singers to ever grace the stage. Mt. Stage tends to attract nice people (both performers and audience), but this week’s lineup seemed especially cordial and down to earth.

The sole complaint I had about the night was the change of venue from Mt. Stage’s Cultural Center home ground to the little theater of the Charleston Civic Center due to scheduling conflicts. The venue itself was fine, but the Civic Center serves alcohol and so I spent the night beside a couple drinking and reeking of beer. Standard fare for an arena concert, but a little disconcerting for Mt. Stage. Oh well, a small price to pay to be seated on the front row for such a grand show.

Irish troubadour Paddy Casey was the first to perform, accompanied only by his guitar, a girl named Fiona, and her piano. Though I’d heard Casey isn’t one to banter much with the audience, I thought he seemed very gracious and charming throughout his set. His jokes were few but funny and seemed genuine, which I found far more enjoyable than the fake babble some artists spew between songs. And what a voice. He played two of my favorite tracks from Amen (So Be It) – the lovely “Sweet Suburban Sky” and “Fear” – as well as a couple of songs from his new album Addicted To Company. His voice was plaintive and beautiful, his songs were entrancing, and I was greatly disappointed when he left the stage.

Tyler Ramsey had the misfortune of stepping into Paddy Casey’s shadow. Casey stood and listened from the wings as Ramsey opened with the title track from A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea. I liked the song well enough on the album (review forthcoming), but it seemed somewhat redundant and lifeless compared to the passion in Paddy’s music. But I was better able to appreciate Tyler’s smooth voice on the pretty second song “Worried”, and I think I would have loved his set any other night.

Brooke Miller was up next, joined by the Mountain Stage band. As if jamming with the house band weren’t enough to win over the hometown crowd, Miller tossed plenty of bubbly chatter in between songs. The music on the upbeat tunes “World On A Whim” and “Country From The Dome Car” sounded great, but it was difficult to hear Brooke’s vocals over the roar of the band. The strength of her voice was more apparent as the music dropped to a hush on the powerful ballad “Two Soldiers”. And even the drunk punk next to me started cuddling with his girl when Brooke sang the romantic title track from her album You Can See Everything.

Then Bell X1 stole the show. Their live renditions of “Rocky Took A Lover”, “Eve, The Apple of My Eye”, and “My First Born For A Song” from their recently re-released album Flock were even more magnificent than the studio recordings. Lead singer Paul Noonan’s voice was especially melodic on the ethereal ballad “Eve, The Apple of My Eye” and his performance of “My First Born For A Song” was absolutely hypnotic. As good as Flock is, the production on the album hinders Noonan’s wail on that particular song.

Just when I thought Bell X1 had reached the limit on awesome, Noonan took out a cowbell and they tore the house down with their rock disco anthem “Flame”. They dedicated the tune to West Virginia native Chuck Yeager, the pilot of the first airplane – the Bell X1 from which the band took their name – to fly faster than the speed of sound. It’s hard to believe Paul Noonan was the drummer of Juniper (his old band with Damien Rice), he seems such a natural lead. I love when singers throw their entire bodies into a song like he does, reaching out to the audience and throwing himself around the stage as he sang. When he first walked on stage, I thought he was cute but not really my type. But by the time he finished singing, I think every female in the audience – myself included – would gladly “toast marshmallows” with him.

The crowd cheered and clapped until my hands hurt, so the producers of the show asked the band to play an extra song. They ended with an older ballad, “I’ll See Your Heart and Raise You Mine”, from Music in Mouth. Noonan encouraged everyone in attendance to find, download, and share the song, so the mp3 is below. With the possible exception of Laura Love, witnessing Bell X1′s set at Mountain Stage was the best concert experience of my life so far. If you have the chance to see them in concert, do whatever you have to and be there.

Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile were the final act. While I loved their spirited performance of “Punch Bowl” from their album Punch and their instrumentation is undeniably good, the two lengthy “Blind Leaving The Blind” movements they played were far too long to endure sitting in the beer fumed theater. Though the boredom I felt during the epic songs melted away under the warmth of Thile’s self-deprecating humor. That boy sure is a charmer.

Host Larry Groce announced that the group finale would be an Irish song, so I was surprised when they burst into “Gloria”. Though I was familiar with the Van Morrison recording, I didn’t realize Morrison also wrote the song. I love Patti Smith’s cover best, but the Mt. Stage group more than did it justice. Definitely one of their best finales, particularly the verses that Casey and Noonan sang. The whole crowd sang along.

We had a brief encounter with Paddy Casey outside after the show. My husband – himself an Irishman – mentioned that he had attended one of Paddy’s performances in a small club years ago when we still lived in Ireland. Casey was friendly, but was obviously out there for a smoke rather than to greet fans. So we left him to it. Sadly, I was unable to add Paul Noonan to my Irish boy collection. Another time perhaps.

Mountain Stage Official Site

Punch Brothers: Punch

Yes, another band of “brothers”. But unlike the youthful troubadour style of The Avett Brothers or the delightfully bizarre Western circus sound of The Felice Brothers, the music of Punch Brothers is more often an unadulterated brand of bluegrass. The band is composed of Nickel Creek mandolin player Chris Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge of The Infamous Stringdusters, Greg Garrison on bass, Noam Pikelny on banjo, and fiddler Gabe Witcher. All members contribute vocals, but Thile takes the lead. This album is not an exciting one, but it is a work of beauty if you appreciate Appalachian folk and bluegrass music.

The opener “Punch Bowl” begins as a backwoods haunt of eerie cacophonous instrumentation then slides into a calmer Appalachian string band sound.

“The Blind Leaving The Blind” is a bluegrass symphony of sorts, written by Chris Thile and divided into four lengthy movements. Initially it feels like a bit of a let down after the opening track, but on the second listen I could better appreciate the pretty placidity of the series. Thile’s voice is softly soothing, his lyrical narrations (inspired by the end of his marriage) are engrossing, and the arrangements exhibit the harmony between the five players while also accentuating the sounds of the individual instruments. The first two movements of the set are particularly lovely.

The finale “It’ll Happen” is quiet, delicate, and absolutely resplendent. I sincerely hope that nothing prevents me from attending The Punch Brothers’ upcoming performance at Mountain Stage.

I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below.

Punch Brothers Official Site

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