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Goofy Punch Brothers serious about music
Thursday, February 7, 2013
There are at least two things to know up front about Punch Brothers. First, the band is full of goofballs. Second, the band takes its music altogether seriously.
To the first point: Deep into a nearly two-hour set at Virginia Tech’s Burruss Auditorium on Wednesday night, a female voice from far back in a crowd estimated at 1,300 shouted: “I love you, Chris!” One might have presumed that she was hollering at frontman/lead singer/mandolinist Chris Thile .
But Thile immediately turned to his right, where guitarist/harmony singer Chris Eldridge stood. They looked at each other with semi-randy mirth. They high-fived, to laughs from the crowd and their bandmates.
“Oh boy, that was inappropriate,” Thile said, before taking it a step further. “Which Chris do you want? Hell, you can have us both.”
To the second point: This is an act that can work genres ranging from Johann Bach to Bill Monroe — and that was just the encore. These brothers are steeped in bluegrass but with deep knowledge of practically every other musical style.
When it wasn’t covering the likes of Josh Ritter’s darkly beautiful “Another New World,” the band mined last year’s CD “Who’s Feeling Young Now” and EP “Ahoy!”
With “Movement and Location,” “Who’s Feeling Young Now” and “Patchwork Girlfriend,” the band has combined many stylistic elements into a pop-rock and sometimes goof-goth brew that suggests it is developing a genre of its own.
And while everyone in the band — Thile, Eldridge, banjoist Noam Pikelny , violinist Gabe Witcher and bassist Paul Kowert — can and did solo like cliche-free beasts, the band played tick-tight, with a multi layered, harmonic intensity that only comes through countless hours of group and individual rehearsal.
Thile was the most physically dynamic, strutting around like the drunken spawn of a rooster and a peacock. But he rarely missed a note, and his voice, a tenor that rises high into falsetto, has strengthened while retaining a wistful quality.
Eldridge and Witcher often harmonized spookily behind him. And Witcher shone with his lead vocal on “This Girl,” from “Who’s Feeling Young.”
Punch Brothers went back to 2010 disc “Antifogmatic,” with the dark pop of “Missy” and rollicking newgrass of “Rye Whiskey.” And at the end of the night, the band unplugged, walked to the front of the stage and played Bill Monroe’s “Blue Night.” It filled the room and stuck in the ears afterward.
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