I have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert so many times I can’t believe I never posted about it. This was my first exposure to Chris Thile, and in the two years since I watched this I have become a huge fan of his (and of singer Sara Watkins).
“Destination” was probably my favorite song from 2014 and is still amazingly catchy. Nickel Creek’s harmonies are superb-lead by Sara and accompaniment by the other three, this song speeds along at a great clip with all kinds of fun instrumentation.
In addition to Thile on mandolin and Sara on violin, there’s Sean Watkins on guitar and Mark Schatz on upright bass.
I liked the way the players shifted positions to let Chris sing lead on “Rest of My Life.” He introduced this song by saying, “this is the first day that I will be singing with my new braces. I am 12 years old.” With his new singing impediment he says this song is “Sung not as a its hungover protagonist but by its be-brace-ed protagonist.” The melody is done on guitar and upright bass with Thile’s mandolin playing most of the higher notes and occasional grace notes from Watkins’ violin. There’s also a delightful “lullaby” sounding section in the middle.
“21s of May” is sung by Sean. He introduces this jaunty song with “Remember when the rapture almost happened three years ago?” May 21st was supposed to be judgement day so he thought he should write one more song and so he did. He plays a great lead guitar melody on this song with great harmonies.
At the end of the song Thile bangs the gong and then asks if they want one more short song. Then he admits that its longer than the other three. It’s an instrumental song called “Elephant in the Corn.” When the crowd cheers, Sean says it’s “Huge in Washington DC.”
I love that Chris and Sean get some fast solo and then Sara take as really slow violin leads that leads to a cool bass slide. The song picks up again with Thile playing some amazingly fast mandolin licks. And just when you think it’s all over, there’s a coda tacked on as well–and not just a “this is the end coda” either.
Nickel Creek has been around forever, and I’m only bummed that it took me until 2014 to actually hear them.
[READ: February 26, 2016] “Thirteen Hundred Rats”
Somehow I didn’t expect the title of this story to be taken literally. And yet, it most certainly was.
I really enjoyed the way this story was constructed. It is told by a man who is somewhat proud of himself. He talks about the small village that they live in–a small village of 50 or so houses created by industrialist B.P. Newhouse (who hoped it would be a model of utopian living). The narrator and his wife live there although they tend to travel the world now that they are older.
He tells the story of a village resident named Gerard. He and Gerard had been friends and had congratulated themselves on not having any children. Gerard’s wife had recently died and Gerard took it hard. He wasn’t eating, wasn’t going out. And people began to worry about him.
Villagers suggested that he should get a pet. Even the narrator’s wife suggested it. So the narrator trudged down to Gerard’s house, with his two dogs in tow to talk to Gerard.
Gerard looked awful. But he invited the narrator in anyway. And then he revealed that he had gotten a pet. Gerard went into the back room and came back with a giant python draped around his shoulders.
“Nice” was all the narrator could say.
The second part of the story has a wonderful set up. “The next part of what I’m going to relate here is a kind of fiction, really or a fictive reconstruction of actual events.” Because he and his wife had been off in Switzerland when the rest happened.
Gerard seemed pleased with his snake. But over the winter there was a power failure. The pet shop owner told him that the temperature in the house should never go below 80. The house was freezing, so Gerard built a fire and dropped the snake near it. It slowly came back to life. And then Gerard realized it was probably hungry. So he ran out and bought a rat for it to eat.
He put the rat in the house and watched, transfixed as the snake lunged (and missed). At the last second, he decided to save the rat. He had never touched a rat before. It seemed genuinely grateful for the rescue. It curled up in his hand and then sat on his shoulder. With no more thought to the snake, he took the rat (which he named Robbie) into his room to go to sleep.
So the house was freezing and the snake didn’t fare so well, but when he went back to the store, he found himself buying more rats anyway (he told the pet shop owner he wanted to stock up on feeder rats). He also bought rat chow and houses. The pet shop owner warned him that they breed like crazy.
During this time, the narrator returned from Switzerland and resumes the actual events of the story. And that’s where the title comes in.
You kind of know what’s going to happen from the get go, but the way Boyle tells a story, including the sympathy that Gerard had for Robbie really makes the story compelling.