Saturday night, Ben Folds joined the South Bend Symphony Orchestra in celebrating the City’s 150th anniversary with a concert well-suited to fans of both classical and pop music.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Punch Brothers Promotional Photographs by Danny Clinch, Posted Here With Permission of None Such Records
Last night’s Mountain Stage featured Brendan James, Vienna Teng, Mark Bates, The Black Lillies and Over the Rhine. Susan Werner was originally scheduled to perform, but was forced to cancel when Sunday’s storms delayed her flight. Local musician Mark Bates was subsequently booked as her replacement.
Brendan James opened the concert and I was very pleasantly surprised by how good he was. His voice and music are even better and stronger live than on his recordings. His poetic, heartfelt folk-pop style falls somewhere between James Taylor, Paddy Casey and Rufus Wainwright.
Brendan played piano and was accompanied only by a drummer and a guitarist, but the trio at times sounded like a full, orchestral band. I especially liked the song “Constellations” and the soaring title track from Brendan’s upcoming album, Simplify, both of which you can stream below. And you can also still nab his Noisetrade sampler with tracks from Simplify below. The album will be released on August 6th.
Buy Brendan James Music @ Amazon (new album available Aug. 6)
I was most excited to see Vienna Teng’s set. I first saw Vienna perform at Mountain Stage in 2008 right before her astounding last album, Inland Territory, was released. Her set then, particularly her bluesy wail of “Grandmother Song,” remains one of the best in my many Mountain Stage memories.
This time around Vienna was previewing songs from her upcoming album, Aims, which will be released in September. You can stream three of the songs below, which I first posted last week.
Vienna began by live looping (recording her own voice for use as background vocals) on her keyboard, then launched into “Whatever You Want” from 2006’s Dreaming Through the Noise. It was the only older song in her set, but fit very well with the new, electro-focused material.
She briefly switched to the Mountain Stage piano for the new songs “Goodnight New York” and “Landsailor.”
After discussing her post-graduate school difficulty in balancing grandiose, global themes with personal stories in her songwriting, Vienna returned to her keyboard for more live looping and the high concept tune “The Hymn of Acxiom.” Musically inspired by choral music and lyrically written from the point of view of a marketing database, the electro-choir style of “The Hymn of Acxiom” was even more haunting and remarkable in person.
Vienna ended her set with an even more impressive feat – a briliant mashup of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” complete with live looping beatbox. It was truly amazing and left no doubt that Vienna Teng is indeed a genius. The audience responded with a very enthusiastic standing ovation.
Vienna Teng’s last performance at Mountain Stage left me wanting her to record a blues album, now I’m waiting for her choral and soul-rap albums. I hope someday Vienna will perform a full concert in Charleston, perhaps at The Clay Center. As wonderful as her Mountain Stage sets always are, they are just too brief for so much talent.
Buy Vienna Teng’s Music @ Amazon (new album available in Sept.)
Hurricane, WV singer-songwriter
The Black Lillies really set the place on fire. It’s easy to understand why the Knoxville, Tennessee ensemble has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry twenty times to date. They sure are entertain’.
Their sound amps up classic country steel guitar and harmonies with modern Americana rhythm and unexpected punches of psychedelic rock and even a bit of soul. Depending on the song (or sometimes the individual note), they ran the genre gamut from Johnny Cash & June Carter to Ike & Tina Turner, with some Janis Joplin and Jerry Lee Lewis in between.
The highlights of their set were the moving, melodic and melancholy war anthem “Goodbye Charlie” and the high-energy, fast-paced, blues-rock wailer “Smokestack Lady.”
The Black Lillies earned the second standing ovation of the evening. They could easily have played a full concert and left the audience wanting more. As the band left the stage, I saw a couple of audience members rush out to the lobby’s merch table, waving their freshly purchased Black Lillies CDs upon their return.
After Mountain Stage Bob Thompson pianist played an instrumental cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Over the Rhine took the stage as the final act of the night. Had they played earlier in the evening, I think I would have enjoyed their set much more. But as it was, the banter-happy Ohio husband and wife folk duo were somewhat of a letdown after the exhilarating, magnificent sets by Vienna Teng and The Black Lillies. They weren’t bad at all, just misplaced in such a powerhouse lineup. The highlights of their set were the lilting ballad “I Want You” and the foot tappin’ rumination on transatlantic jetlag, “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body.”
All of the acts joined the Mountain Stage band on stage for the group finale of the murder ballad “On the Banks of the Ohio.”
The stage was lit with what appeared to be vintage glass baubles hanging from the ceiling and a ghostly mist rolled through as opening act Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys took the stage. They gave a peppy, old-fashioned set. I loved their retro Spaghetti Western vibe and harmonies. Mead’s croons and yodels are from another era. They elicited a standing ovation from the crowd with a twisted song about The Andy Griffith show featuring a pot smokin’, moonshine drinkin’ Opie.
Old Crow Medicine Show then took the stage, launching into the title track from their 2012 album, Carry Me Back. From the opening notes they had members of the audience on their feet dancing in the aisles.
They ripped through “Alabama High Test” with flashing lights and roadies switching out guitars for harmonicas mid-lyric.
Lead singer Ketch Secor threw out a lot of love to “the Charleston skyline,” “the Mountaineer state,” “the KRT bus terminal,” “the Kanawha Valley” and “where hillbilly music comes home to roost, West-by-God Virginia,” which earned him a lot of love in return from the exuberant local crowd. It also helped they have local boy Chance McCoy in the band.
There’s no greater musical sight to this country gal than a string band huddled together jammin’. And it must be said Secor plays his fiddle like Eddie Van Halen plays his electric guitar.
The concert was comprised of newer material from the Carry Me Back album as well as some gems from their earlier works.
Most notable was the rousing fan favorite “Wagon Wheel” from their debut, O.C.M.S..The song was written with a co-authoring deal with Bob Dylan, and it is by far OCMS’ best known, beloved and oft covered tune. The entire audience was on their feet cheering and singing along for the duration of the song and the band seemed to pause after it to stare, soak in and appreciate the adoration of the crowd.
Despite my disappointment with 2008’s Tennessee Pusher album, Old Crow’s “Methamphetamine” was one of the most powerful live performances I’ve witnessed.
I had hoped to hear more from 2006’s brilliant Big Iron World (#2 on my Best of the Decade list and one of my all-time favorite albums), but they did play “Cocaine Habit,” “Union Maid” and a soul-stirring, harmonious mashup of “I Hear Them All” and “This Land is Your Land.”
Other highlights were “Mississippi Saturday Night,” “Humdinger,” “CC Rider” and “Big Time in the Jungle,” but it was really a fantastic concert from beginning to end. One of the best I’ve ever attended.
Old Crow Medicine Show have a rare mix of chemistry, energy and artistry. They masterfully bridge the gap between the downhome bluegrass (and blues) past and rowdy rocked up modern Americana. They built the multi-instrumental, multi-genre stage groups like The Low Anthem, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons now play upon.
OCMS’ sweet backwoods harmonies and barn burning instrumentation made for a very lively, impressive and thoroughly entertaining show.
Though it must be said the true star of the show was the Grassy Knoll Boy I believe Mead called “Reverend Dan,” who popped back on stage to “buck dance” during Old Crow’s set. That dude had pizazz.
Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys joined Old Crow on stage for encore duets of Mead’s old BR549 hit “Cherokee Boogie” and a concluding cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
You can read my full review of last night’s Carrie Underwood concert in Charleston, WV at The Charleston Gazette website. An edited version of the review was also featured in today’s print edition of the newspaper.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Carrie Underwood (and certainly not of opening act Hunter Hayes) before the gig, but it turned out to be one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. Both artists put everything they had into every song. The otherwise spectacular stage lighting was terrible for photos and I forgot my camera, but I snapped a few cell pics. And thanks to YouTube, you can see some videos by other concert goers below.