Every time Punch Brothers play in Atlanta, it seems to get better. The sold out crowd at the Variety on Thursday night saw no different. They love Chris Thile and his merry band of stringmen. And the New York quintet, in turn, loves the Atlanta fans. In the popular 1,000+ venue, fans were on their feet the entire evening. This was a fun show with music that compelled listeners to partake in the fine art of hand-clapping and foot-stomping
“Ahoy!” was yelled by Thile several times throughout the night, with the crowd responding with a roaring “Ahoy!” A nice little bit of self-promotion, as Ahoy! is also the name of the new EP. It was released in October and is a collection of five songs which were culled from the Who’s Feeling Young Now? recording sessions. Still, though, Who’s Feeling remains hot as the band recently released the video for the single “Movement And Location.”
After one especially rousing reception, Thile exclaimed, “Goddamn I love Atlanta!” Throughout the evening, fans yelled requests which usually fell upon deaf ears. Two exceptional covers usually done live (Radiohead’s “Kid A” and the Cars’ “Just What I Needed”) were not performed on this night. The band relied heavily on Who’s Feeling, including “This Girl,” “Movement And Location” (apparently written about the pitching of Greg Maddox), the awesome instrumental “Flippen,” and “Hundred Dollars,” sung with perfection by fiddler Gabe Witcher. Several more songs from the first two albums, Punch (2008) and Antifogmatic (2010), were also featured. Additionally, the crowd enjoyed the beautiful “Dark Days,” which was featured on the soundtrack to Hunger Games.
Guitarist Chris Eldridge took lead vocals on the witty “Next To The Trash” (“She puts my body away, next to the trash, under the sink / Along with all the cleaning supplies and the things that we buy and decide we don't need”). The talent in this band is immeasurable. To say that all five musicians are virtuosos regarding their respective instruments sounds sensational, but it’s darn near the truth. The fact is, these five men have formed this collective and fit together like it was destiny. And each clearly enjoys the experience. Like when Thile and Witcher do a sort of dueling banjos, except it’s mandolin dueling violin. And throughout the evening, each got his chance to impress the fans with a solo or two.
The group runs the gamut of genre-bending sound. It begins with bluegrass, but blended in are aspects of country, jazz, blues and rock, peppered with Americana throughout. Punch Brothers have been labeled Newgrass and Progressive Bluegrass, but have really carved out an original sound all their own. Whiskey seems to be an off-and-on theme in their live show. Of course, the wildly popular “Rye Whiskey” was sung by most everyone in the venue and is one of their most well-known songs. It’s a typical thing for the band to do one with “no electricity.” On this night, the song was “Moonshiner” from the new EP. All five unplugged their instruments and stepped up in front of the microphones. The sold out Variety Playhouse became a church. It was silent. Still, fans had to lean forward a bit to hear, but it was moving and felt like we were in a living room together. Watch it here (from a recent NYC show): "Moonshiner"
Before the encore, Thile returned alone to treat the fans to a little “solo Bach.” As he began this incredible piece, jaws began dropping. This guy is good. For an idea of how he actually sounds, click here: Thile plays Bach
Legions of future fans are out there. Hearing these songs is one thing. Seeing Punch Brothers live is a different ball game. These guys are rock stars. And not a drum in sight.
Opening the show was Anais Mitchell. Thile came out early to introduce her to the crowd. He described her as a singer/songwriter, but followed up by stating that, “I know, singer/songwriter usually means stop listening, but…” He sang her praises for a moment, then she took the stage. Accompanied only by the picking of her acoustic guitar, Mitchell’s voice was mesmerizing. Ani DiFranco has been a huge influence in Mitchell’s life and it is evident in her singing and songwriting. Throw in a dash of Jewel, Bjork and even a little Dolly Parton, and you have an idea as to how this voice sounds. Watch "Coming Down"
Mitchell played several tunes from her most recent release, Young Man in America (Wilderland Records) and her 2010 folk opera Hadestown (Righteous Babe Records). Among the many highlights, “Why We Build The Wall” was clearly a standout. Mitchell’s upcoming album is titled Child Ballads and will be a collaboration with Jefferson Hamer (March 19). Keep an eye on Anais Mitchell.