Sunday, May 1, 2011

Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile - 05/01/11

Punch Brothers: Next to the Trash
Punch Brothers: Don’t Need, no
Punch Brothers: Punch Bowl
Punch Brothers: Alex
Chris Thile: Brakeman’s Blues
Punch Brothers: You Are
Punch Brothers: The Blinds Leaving the Blinds
Punch Brothers: I Know you Know
Punch Brothers: Ophelia
Punch Brothers: This is the Song (Good luck)
Punch Brothers: Watch the Breakdown

One of the main benefits of regularly attending Carnegie Hall’s Neighborhood Concerts is that, beside indulging in terrific concerts for free, I also get to visit places that have not been high on my list of priorities, but sometimes turn out to be wonderful - or at least interesting - surprises. That’s how today, after an almost two-hour long journey including subway, ferry and bus, I found myself on Staten Island to hear the young but much heralded Punch Brothers featuring mandolin player extraordinaire Chris Thile.
Together they are fast becoming well-known as much for their music, an inspired, often daring, blend of bluegrass, jazz and classical, all neatly connected by fearless improvisations, as for their communicative energy and light-hearted banter. So it was with sky-high expectations that I and over 200 people found ourselves at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden to enjoy a lovely afternoon of outdoor music on this sunny, if still cool, first day of May.

No playlist was provided, but I somehow managed to figure out some of the songs. Regardless of what I deciphered and what I missed (My knowledge of bluegrass being extremely feeble), the five-member band and their self-described "jet-lagged souls" (They had just gotten off the red eye from California and endured an arrowing ride on the Varrazano Bridge) kept the music seamlessly flowing during the whole 90-minute set. Whether beautifully unfolding straightforward melodies or spontaneously engaging in collaborative fireworks, the musicians maintained their lively spirits high up and adventurous avant-garde experiments under control for a consistently engaging performance. People who had wandered onto the open field by chance were quickly seduced and rapidly sat down, and the enlightened ones who had made a point of coming in spite of the distance to cover were fully vindicated.

For the encores, Chris Thile treated the adoring audience to an outstanding mandolin version of the Presto from Bach’s Sonata No 1 in G Minor (As he pointed out, this was Carnegie Hall, after all) and proved once more how timeless the German composer’s music is. Then the whole band came back for a rousing version of Elvis Costello’s “Jimmy Standing in the Rain”, clearly demonstrating their assured grasp on pop music in the process, before ending the concert the way it had started, with more high-flying, virtuosic bluegrass.

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