Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Twist with the Fist: Punch Brothers

String band Punch Brothers headlined Somerville Theatre in Davis Square Thursday, January 13th. The talented quintet is composed of Chris Thile [lead vocals, mandolin], Noam Pikelny [banjo], Gabe Witcher [violin], Paul Kowert [bass], and Chris Eldridge [guitar]. All five are, in their own right, vanguards on America’s bluegrass, folk and country scene, but together, they are a powerful, musical maelstrom. With two records under their belt, Punch and Antifogmatic [a term collaged by the band to signify a hard drink consumed at the start of a rough work day], the band is poised to successfully seduce America on their continuing tour.

In a word, pluck. In not only their stage energy and raucously beautiful voices, but in their staggeringly frenetic fingering of their instruments. Thiles’s tenuous voice worked its way through gems like “This Is the Song,” a tune which transports you to a lonely, pensive walk down a foggy moor, and “Alex,” a melodic passage to memories of relationships and risks. For “Don’t Need No,” a track off their newest album, Witcher stepped in on vocals with his deeper, more guttural voice. It was a pleasure – and a tease, as it was the only tune he took the steering wheel on.

It was a tough crowd too, at Somerville’s near century-old theatre. Derrieres were inexplicably glued to seats. There were vagaries every now and then, some hollers and song suggestions, but other than that, the crowd was flatlined. The only moment the crowd registered a pulse was when the Brothers launched into their rowdy “Rye Whiskey.” The Punch Bros prevailed despite the somnambulant ambience.

At first sight, without having heard a note struck, I confess that I was worried the band might be the ultimate amalgamation of the gentleman’s club-frat meets preppy a cappella group. [What’s wrong with that, you might ask? … If you don’t know, you never will!] This was a tough mold to break, but after the first song, I was sold. Punch Brothers was the sound of stones skipping in a stream, the sound of rain on the roof, the sound of boot-swathed feet tapping magnanimously on a hard floor. They’re playing tomorrow, January 20, in Madisonville, TN at the Monroe Area Council. Get your hair did and your ears waxed and check it.


Punch Brothers Home Page

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