chris-thile

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Had a fun portrait shoot with Musician Chris Thile at his home for the new issue of Garden & Gun. The interview is featured in the February/March issues “Talk of The South” section and discuss’s both Chris’s music as well as his new role as host of long running public radio program A Prairie Home Companion. We talked about our mutual love of Speyside scotch & the fun he has been having as a new father. Thanks so much to Maggie & the rest of the amazing crew at G&G. Its always a pleasure to contribute to my favorite Southern publication. One of these days ill finally make it to visit the offices in Charleston. 

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American Acoustic - Punch Brothers, I’m With Her and Julian Lage at Taft Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug. 12, 2017

“Good luck,” Chris Thile said.

These final words came at the end of a powerful encore on the Cincinnati stop of the American Acoustic Tour, in which nine musicians - the members of Punch Brothers and I’m With Her and guitarist Julian Lage - performed a dichotomous, two-song encore that began with a bursting-with-joy version of Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and ended with the melancholic strains of the Brothers’ “This is the Song (Good Luck).”

It was the end of nearly three hours of music - delivered in sets of 70 and 100 minutes, respectively - in which the bands played together and alone and in various combinations and took the nearly full Taft Theater and its hard-listening audience on a tour through the power of music and the human voice. Not only acoustic, this show was unplugged - fiddles, guitars, mandolins, banjos, basses, et al. were not tethered by cords; they were channeled through center-stage mics - no amps allowed.

The result was breathtaking. And the audience sat silently rapt through it all, exploding into cheers only as songs ended and after particularly powerful solos. Concertgoers knew the nuances of these performances were important.

This was a low-frills presentation. A large, beige backdrop touted the tour’s title and the players played under minimal lighting and engaged in understated, but sincere, banter, which showed they were beyond happy to be where they were, with whom they were with and doing what they were doing.

The nine musicians spent the final 55 minutes of the show sharing the spotlight, sometimes playing in a nonet, other times in various combinations while colleagues sat in chairs on either side of the stage, taking in the show like the fans they were. A staggering run of performances, this segment featured a mini Nickel Creek reunion on “Destination;” the entire group playing Thile’s hilarious and timely “Comey’s Waltz;” a jaw-dropping rendition of the Beatles’s “Julia” with Thile, Aoife O'Donovan and Sarah Jarosz singing tender harmonies while fiddlers Sara Watkins and Gabe Witcher added plaintive violin melodies; and other traditional and original numbers that seemed designed to ease the tension after a day in which America was rocked by neo-Nazi terrorism in the South.

This set- and show-closing segment segued directly out of Punch Brothers’ 45-minute, second-half-opening performance in which the quintet gathered around the mics to share its quirky take on bluegrass music. Dressed in various versions of office attire - jackets, ties, vests, smart shoes - the Brothers oozed virtuosity whether they were reinterpreting Debussy’s “Passepied” or inserting jazzy riffs into the proceedings with original numbers such as “Julep.”

Although Thile is the clear ringmaster, he never dominates his Brothers and together they create a family-style performance that takes bluegrass to places its never been while - and this is the truly amazing part - never straying too far from its home base. This was a powerhouse demonstration that - because of the setting in which it occurred - was not the highlight of the evening.

That honor belongs to I’m With Her, the trio of Watkins, Jarosz and O'Donovan, which formed spontaneously in 2015 to open for the Punch Brothers.

Resplendent in floor-length black dresses, the Americana supergroup sang like sisters, Watkins’ willowy rasp, Jarosz’s smooth alto and O'Donovan’s confident whisper-to-wail blending to create on instrument that raised skin and neck hair early and often during their 40-minute showcase.

Watkins and O'Donovan are pregnant - with children and songs - and the band debuted new tracks to be included on a forthcoming album. The set that could have been longer included the title track from their new EP, Little Lies, and well-chosen covers like Jim Croce’s “Walkin’ Back to Georgia” and John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Waters.” They all played guitar - with Watkins alternating on fiddle and Jarosz also playing mandolin and banjo - and switched off on lead vocals.  

Brothers bassist Paul Kowert made I’m With Her a quartet, adding bubbly bottom end to the final song that lead to a short, 20-minute break before the headliners took over. This was rewarded with an exuberant standing ovation from the audience and gigantic smiles from the performers.

After his single-song, solo performance, Punch Brother and banjoist extraordinaire Noam Pikelny - looking like he’d just woken up with hair on end, a wrinkled jacket and tie askew - introduced I’m With Her as the best band going for his money and they lived up to the lofty billing.  

Pikelny’s slot was the capper on a rotating 30-minute, opening sequence that began with Thile, Lage, O'Donovan and Jarosz kicking things off sweetly with the first of many awe-inspiring pieces that would follow and ran through Watkins leading a large grouping through her own “Young in All the Wrong Ways” and featured 29-year-old Lage - performing alone - building the foundation of a reputation that will one day place him along side the likes of Tommy Emmanuel and Leo Kottke on the Mount Rushmore of acoustic pickers.

Each of these musicians and bands could easily carry a show on their own. But they’re stronger together. And together, they carried some 2,500 music lovers to a high plane only rarely attained - a rare state of contentment where nothing outside the happenings at hand matters and where the problems of a bleak world disappear, if only temporarily.

Grade card: American Acoustic - Punch Brothers, I’m With Her and Julian Lage at Taft Theatre - 8/12/17 - A+

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I love Chris Thile. I love Bach. I love this video, in which Chris Thile talks about the challenges and advantages of playing Bach’s violin music on mandolin.

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Carolina drama, Jack White, featuring Chris Thile
A prairie home companion
October 15, 2016

Punch Brothers
Somerville Theatre
Somerville, Massachusetts
1/13/2011

Download: FLAC/MP3

Source: Schoeps CCM4V’S(din)>Lunatec V2>Benchmark AD2K>
Sound Devices 722 (24/48)
FOB/DFC/KFC/ZFC/AARP Center Section, Row M, Seat 4, 6′ High
DSP: Sound Devices 722>Sound Forge 9.0>CD Wave>flac(16)>WAV>MP3

Disc I

01 Greeting
02 You Are
03 Don’t Need No
04 Heart
05 Flipper
06 Punch Bowl
07 Banter
08 Missy
09 Another New World
10 Banter On Grammy
11 The New Chance Blues
12 Next To The Trash
13 Alex

Disc II

01 Tuning
02 Blind Leading The Blind, 1st Movement
03 Paperback Writer
04 Watch ‘At Breakdown
05 Banter
06 This Is The Song
07 Kid A >
08 Wayside
Encore:
09 Thanks
10 *Hole Bach
11 #Big River
12 Rye
13 Band Introductions

* Chris Thile Solo, Unplugged At Front Of Stage
# With The Secret Sisters On Vocals

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Four years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing these two fine musicians perform together live at UMD. Mid-setlist, they began a cover of my absolute favorite Dylan tune (hell, maybe even my favorite song, period) that ended up being one of the most satisfying and masterfully executed songs I’ve ever heard performed live. I’ve been waiting ever since for them to release a record together, and yesterday that finally happened. To my luck, this was included on the album as the penultimate track and it is every bit as perfect as I remember it.

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Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau - Independence Day

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau perform Elliott Smith’s “Independence Day,” from their self-titled debut duo album, due January 27, 2017. The song was performed at Bowery Ballroom in NYC in December 2015. Video by Alex Chaloff.