PUNCH BROTHERS AND NICKEL CREEK | New York, Carnegie Hall

There isn’t really a single word that captures what the Punch Brothers are about. Nonetheless, I have settled with a genre-hopping quintet with blue-grass instrumentation. Their musical playbook ranges from classical to progressive country, folk, blues and pop. The quintet comprises of Chris Thile (mandolinist, lead singer), Chris Eldridge (guitarist), Noam Pikelny (banjoist), Gabe Witcher (violinist) and Paul Kowert (bassist). Last night’s performance at Carnegie Hall was a beautiful demonstration of the band’s virtuosity, and not without the musical affluence of each member.

The quintet walks onto a minimal stage, and position themselves around one microphone – opting to play unplugged, using the superb acoustics of the Main Hall. I was concerned that a single microphone would miss subtle, individual contributions, however, the mix was on-point for the whole show.

Illuminated under a red glow, visually reminiscent of the album cover for the band’s latest record —All Ashore— they play its title track. It was perfection. Musical phrases flowed seamlessly across the instruments, almost as if the band was one instrument. The band’s onstage chemistry was salient. Most notably was the energy between Thile and Eldridge, whose voices harmonised excellently. The Punch Brothers are most impressive when live: their simple, acoustic set-up, with no extras, was able to recreate all the sounds on their records, yet make it sound even better.

After a brief intermission, Thile returns on stage joined by Nickel Creek, comprising of siblings, Sara and Sean Watkins (violinist and guitarist, respectively), and Mike Elizondo (bass). They played a cheerful, toe-tapping set. Nickel Creek’s music was a welcome return to Thile’s roots, with the more familiar sounds of blue-grass and country.

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