Concert Review: Punch Brothers
By Sarah Jorgensen
El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles
March 10, 2012
Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert hit the nail on the head in my interview with him when he said that seeing the band live was like hearing “the record on caffeine.” This energetic bluegrass and folk string quintet played to a packed and equally energetic crowd this past Saturday in Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre. The band, each member impeccably dressed in suits, had excellent chemistry on stage, watching each other closely and making seamless transitions into solos and longer improvisation. The sold-out show featured many songs off of the band’s new album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, including the rousing “This Girl” and “Don’t Get Married Without Me.” Other crowd favorites included “Rye Whiskey” off of the band’s critically acclaimed album Antifogmatic – a song that prompted mandolin player Chris Thile to propose a toast to the crowd. Some of the more quiet songs, like “Missy,” were just gorgeous too and featured some impressive and complex vocal harmonies.
While the band’s more lyrically oriented songs are certainly fun tunes that the crowd loved to sing along to, I think the band’s strongest moments were when they simply improvised on their instrumental songs. A highlight of the show for me was “Flippen,” an excellent track off their new album. Though the album cut of this song is very strong, it just exploded on stage. “Hundred Dollars,” a darker track also on the new record, heavily benefited from an extended improvisation tacked onto the end of the song. The band really seemed to feed off the energy of the audience, which Thile claimed at the end of the show was “one of the best this tour.” I was also excited to hear the band’s cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” – it’s such a strange choice for a band like Punch Brothers to play that it completely works – but was more disappointed when it transitioned rather abruptly into another cover, Gillian Welch’s “Wayside,” which is a heavily bluegrass song. I’m really just splitting hairs here, but for me, if they had continued the dark and strange mood that “Kid A” had set with a song like “Hundred Dollars,” the set could’ve been more cohesive on a whole.
The encore brought back opener Aofie O’Donovan (who everyone reading this review should look up – she’s is going to become a big deal really soon) to play “Here in Heaven,” a track from The Goat Rodeo Sessions, an album that O’Donovan and Thile played on with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma. This simply beautiful song was a great capstone on the evening, especially since it was followed by “Soon or Never,” an equally gorgeous track off Who’s Feeling Young Now?. It was the perfect way to cap off a night with one of the most unique and creative groups I have seen play in a long time. Do not miss the opportunity to see this excellent group play near you soon.