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Archive for the ‘Punch Brothers’ Category

[CANCELLED: May 21, 2020] Chris Thile

indexI got tickets for S and I to see Chris Thile because we both like Nickel Creek.  I’m not even sure that I told her about this show before McCarter decided to cancel their entire season.

Chris Thile is a masterful mandolin player.  I’ve seen him on numerous occasions in various Tiny Desk Concerts and I saw him with Punch Brothers, which was a lot of fun.

I’m not sure what he would have done as a solo artist (or if he was going to have special guests).  I don’t really care so much either, because whatever he did would be great.

I hope he comes back next season.

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[ATTENDED: February 14, 2019] Gabriel Kahane

I saw Gabriel Kahane open for Punch Brothers about four years ago.   I was really impressed by his piano playing and songwriting.  So when he announced a new album I was on board to see him right away.  I got a ticket for him at a small bar call Bourbon and Branch in Philly.  But I wound up with other plans so I couldn’t go.  Then I saw that he was playing a show at Princeton!

The show was titled 8980: Book of Travelers and was supposed to come with a video of some sort documenting his Book of Travelers album.  I was really curious about this (and pretty excited too, as there were only two locations on the tour where he was going to include the video).  There was no video at our show.  On a message board I was able to find out why not:

There is a version with video and we had originally planned to present it last night. Ultimately, the more personal, direct, Gabriel at the piano seemed like a better fit for our space so we made a change.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHOLIDAYS RULE (2012).

This collection is fairly new (a second volume has just come out this year).  It was curated by Chris Funk from The Decemberists.  It’s a nice mix of contemporary bands and classic songs.  The disc is mostly fun–it gets a little bogged down in the middle–and upbeat.

FUN-“Sleigh Ride”
The first time I heard this  had no idea who it was (I didn’t look at the disc).  I actually thought it was a female pop singer.  After listening a few times I’m mixed but favorable on it.  I love the sound effects in the background.  It’s fun, even with the autotune.

THE SHINS-“Wonderful Christmastime”
This is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but I like this version better than Pauls’s.  It doesn’t sound especially like The Shins to me though.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT AND SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
I love Rufus’ distinctive voice–he does louche so well.  Sharon is somewhat indistinct here but she is well-matched with him.

PAUL McCARTNEY-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This might be the only disc I have where someone covers a song by an artist on the disc.  His version of this is way too slow.  But I am intrigued that he says “some holly and some mistletoe” (Because he’s vegetarian).

BLACK PRAIRIE featuring SALLIE FORD-“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
I typically don’t care for this song, but I love this bluegrassy version.  It’s stomping and fun (and Chris Funk plays on it).

THE CIVIL WARS-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The Civil Wars are downbeat folk artists but, man, their voices together are so lovely.  Their harmonies make this song essential despite the less than upbeat rhythms.

CALEXICO-“Green Grows the Holly”
This song sounds so wonderfully Calexico.  I love it and would even have assumed it was an original of theirs if I didn’t know better,

AGESANDAGES-“We Need A Little Christmas”
I’m torn about this song.  They modify the delivery and I think I like it.  It’s also pretty infrequently played so it gets extra points.  But it feels like a real downer when you can hear the lyrics so clearly.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY-“That’s What I Want for Christmas”
I don’t know who this is. And I don’t really care for this song which is kind of slow and ponderous even if the message is a good one.

IRMA THOMAS WITH PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND-“May Ev’ry Day be Christmas”
This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

HEARTLESS BASTARDS-“Blue Christmas”
I dislike this song to begin with, so making a countryish version certainly doesn’t help.

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER-“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
So this song is interesting with its strange chord choices and themes.  And it would be great if it were like 2 minutes long.  It seems to end quite naturally at that time, but then some vibes come in and the song gets all slinky.  That would be fine except it just repeats the same line and vibes section for 3 minutes!  WTF Eleanor?

FRUIT BATS-“It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”
It drives me nuts the way this guys says Creeesmas.  Why does he say it like that?  It’s crazy.  And I can’t get past it because he says it a bunch.

Y LA BAMBA-“Señor Santa”
This song is more or less “Mister Sandman” but sung with the lyrics of Mister Santa.  There’s a wheezy accordion and the great accented voice of the lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza.  I love this and more artists should invent songs like this for the holidays.

PUNCH BROTHERS-“O come, O come, Emmanuel”
The Punch Brothers are awesome and this version of this song terrific.  Chris Thile sings wonderfully as he gets that mandolin worked up.  I love that they turn it into an opportunity to stretch out some, too.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
A terrific duet with the unmistakable voice of Charity Rose Thielen.  This is a sprightly and fun song and they do a great job.  I love the way she sings “maybe I’m crazy” and the vamping at the end is fantastic.

ANDREW BIRD-“Auld Lang Syne”
Andrew plays some high-spirited violin and sings briskly.  There’s a kind of countryish feel to it, which is quite different for this song.

Overall this is a good collection to add.  Nothing offensive or off-putting and maybe just one or two duds.

[READ: December 21, 2017] “The First Day of Winter”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: SARAH JAROSZ-Tiny Desk Concert #324 (December 7, 2013).

I know Sarah Jarosz’ name from somewhere (anything spelled like tha I’ll remember), but I’m not sure where.  It turns out that Jarosz plays awesome bluegrass.

Perhaps I’d heard of her because of her youth:

The singer and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced as an 18-year-old wunderkind with the release of 2009’s Song Up In Her Head, which generated the first of what will likely be many Grammy nominations; now a grizzled 22, she’s out performing songs from her fine new third album, Build Me Up From Bones.

performed with the aid of fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist . All

“Over the Edge” has a great riff.  It starts out with Jarosz’ guitar (which is an 8-string guitar: twinned four string, so almost like a bass and yet strummed).  She’s accompanied by a plucked cello (by Nathaniel Smith).  And then her voice comes in: distinctive, raspy and really lovely.  But it’s after the first verse when the guitar and cello both play that fast 8 note riff that the song really kicks into bluegrass territory. In the middle of the song, it’s fiddler Alex Hargreaves who throws in some great bluegrass fiddling lines.  It’s swinging and rollicking and really fun.

“Build Me Up from Bones” is more folk sounding—her voice is beautiful and the melody of this song (which she plays on that 8 string guitar) is outstanding.  There’s a cool alt-folk tone to the song, especially in the bridge.  The cello is bowed, giving a rich sound before the violin (rather than fiddle) solo comes in.

For “Fuel The Fire” she switches to banjo.  This is a great bluegrass song and that banjo sounds great.  I’d love to see a double bill with her and Punch Brothers.

[READ: November 12, 2016] Gunnerkrigg Court 3 [23-31]

I really enjoyed book 2 of the series and was pretty exited to see that book 3 was already out–in fact books 4 and five have been released, too.  This book collects Siddell’s online series–for frame of reference, this book ends with chapter 31 and as of May 2017 he is up to chapter 62 online.

I loved that Chapter 23 started with a totally different style–looking like a kind of sci-fi epic (and called Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians). But we quickly learn that this new look is a simulation–a kind of test for the main kids.  But it’s very poorly made and they solve the mystery almost instantly. This plot leads to a couple of interesting revelations.  That Parley has a thing for Smitty (everyone can tell but the two of them), and that Jones is becoming a fascinating and enigmatic important character. Reynard is also even funnier with his comeback “I think you detect a hint of shut your face” which Anni responds to with “Hah, Katerina must be helping you with your comebacks.”

The simulation room also allows for us to learn more about the origins of Reynard and Coyote. (more…)

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june10SOUNDTRACK: GABRIEL KAHANE-Tiny Desk Concert #178 (November 26, 2011).

kahaneWhen I saw Kahane a few months ago, he looked very different from the fellow here.  (More hair and a beard will do that).

I found Kahane’s music to be really enjoyable even if it was never really that catchy.  His songs are complex and thought-inducing, with many layers.  Although I found that after listening to his songs a number of times, I could really find the hooks in there.

His voice has a kind of soft quality to it–not quiet, but very much not harsh, which allows his enunciations to be heard quite easily.

For “Charming Disease,” Kahane plays keyboards.  He’s accompanied by strings and a guitar (I love the coloration of the guitar).  Since he also writes classical music, his pop songs have a distinctly classical feel (even without the string quartet to back him up). So the piano lines that he plays are simple chords, they are full lines.  And there are times when the guitar plays beautiful counterpoint to his chords.  This song is about an alcoholic (“I took you home and took away your keys”), but you’d never know the darkness of the lyrics from the melody which is bright and cheerful.  I love the middle section of the song–the chord progressions during the “Wine Dark Sea” are, in my mind anyway, very Kahane, and they’re what I love about his music.

For “Where Are the Arms” he switches to acoustic guitar.  You know the song isn’t going to be simple when he counts of “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”  I love that he plays a continuing picked section while the guitar and strings play chords behind him, really fleshing out the song.

As they prepare for the final song, one of the violinists knocks over her music stand and he jokes, how did you fit an 11 piece band back her but we can’t get a string quartet.  Someone shouts that it’s the strings–the bows.  Kahane says, yes, “One string is two humans–ego and otherwise.”  To groans from the band.

For “Last Dance” I love that he sings his vocal melody along with the guitar melody (something Frank Zappa used to do–it’s complex and interesting).   And while there is certainly a melody there, he really complicates it with all of the single notes.  The strings come in and the song modifies somewhat until his voice seems to resume the complex singing style.  But then in the middle of the song (“she begins to sing”) it switches to a very catchy section with a refrain of “sex and cigarettes.”  It’s the most immediate thing in the show and shows how poppy Kahane can be.  even if the ending is quite abrupt.

He really deserves repeated and close listening.

[READ: February 5, 2016] “Learning to Look at L.A.”

I know Gabriel Kahane from when he opened for Punch Brothers this past summer.  I really enjoyed his set and found his album charming and eccentric but very literary.

Turns out that at the time of the release of The Ambassador he wrote this piece for the New Yorker as well.  It explores the themes that he delved into for his album, especially architecture in L.A.   He even opens with a discussion of Die Hard.  Like his song “Villains (4616 Dundee Dr.)” which contains the lyric:

I’ve been thinking a lot
About action movies of the 1980’s
Particularly Die Hard,
Which seems to illustrate
So many of the anxieties
Central to a time + place:
Japanese capital
The waning of the cold war
Pride in a downtown
What did they build it for?

He says that his “affection for this film is one hundred-percent unironic.” (more…)

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jan2016SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS THILE & MICHAEL DAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #133 (June 13, 2011).

After seeing Avi Avital play an amazing show last week, it seemed only thilefitting to mention a show with an other amazing mandolin player. Chris Thile does some incredible work on that tiny instrument.  I’d love to see a duel between the two of them—it would be mind blowing.

Thile has played with many many different musicians, both in bands (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) and as duos and trios.  And this duet with guitarist Michael Daves is fantastic.

Daves plays a folkie electric guitar and sings.  They share lead and harmony vocal duties (with Thile usually going higher).  And while Thile’s mandolin solos are incredible, Daves is no slouch on the guitar either–his fingering may be just as fast as Thile’s.

The two have a great rapport (and play a super long set!).  The duo met and were going to record one song, but it turned into more than a dozen.  And they play 6 of them during this show.

“Sleep With One Eye Open” feature Daves on lead vocal.  It’s upbeat and bouncy folk with a country twang attached.  (I love that Thile’s mandolin is just as loud as Dave’s guitar).  And I love watching Thile bounce around while playing.

They duet on vocals for “Rabbit in the Log” which is about the inherent cuteness and tastiness of rabbits.  Thile’s fingerwork is mind blowing until you hear the solo that Daves does.  And how does a song that’s so fast end so sweetly?

“Bury Me Beneath The Willow” is slower song with Thile on lead vocals.  it shows that their whole act isn’t about speed.

“Billy In The Lowground”  Thile says that Billy, “through no fault of his own ended up in the lowground.”  It’s an instrumental so we just have to imagine what Billy did.  It’s another place for them to show off their skills.

“It Takes One to Know One” is a more bluesy than bluegrass song with Daves on lead vocals.  It’s alike a slow blues song with Daves’ country twang vocals.  Thile’s slide solo is amazing—never seen anything quite like that on the mandolin (well, until Avi did something similar).

When their set should be over, Thile says they’ll do “one more for good measure.”  “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” is an incredibly fast song.  They duet on vocals but Daves really shines on the super fast guitar solos.

The more I see Chris Thile the more I’m impressed by him.  I can’t wait to see who he teams up with next.

[READ: February 23, 2016] “There are Other Forces at Work”

John Darnielle, singer and guitarist for the Mountain Goats is also a fiction writer.  And here is a great essay about John Cage.

Darnielle opens the essay by saying that on the day that Nixon resigned, Darnielle was 7, but he cheered anyone since he was taught that Nixon was the bad guy.  And on that day, John Cage gave the first public reading of “Empty Word” a piece of unaccompanied voice in which he read from Thoreau’s journals and reduced the journals first to single words then to syllables and eventually to letters–drawing them out slower and slower.

This piece caused riots.

Then Darnielle gets to the meat of the matter.  He has gone to Halberstadt because The John Cage Project has been performing Cages’ “ORGAN2/ASLSP” there since 2000.  And it plans to run until 2640.  Perhaps you have heard of this piece and its preposterous length.

There is a piano version of ASLSP (which stands for As Slow as Possible).  Darnielle tries to imagine playing each note on a piano until it rang its length out (about 30 seconds). But an organ can play for as long a performer can hold the note.   The only instruction Cage gave for the piece: “all eight pieces are to be played.  However, any one of them may be repeated, though not necessarily, and as in ASLSP, the repetition may be placed anywhere in the series.”   In other words you can play it for as long as you like

Here’s a 4 minute version

It is being performed in Halberstadt because the modern twelve note keyboard was in vented in Halberstadt in 1361.  That was 639 years before 2000 and thus the entire piece will last until 2640 which is 639 years from 2000 (there’s nice symmetry for an asymmetrical piece).  As such, since they were mathematical about it, they determined that one of the 8 parts would last 71 years.  That’s 71 years of an organ playing a single note.

When Darnielle arrives it is for one of the changing of the chords.  This discordant chord had been playing since 2012.  Before he arrived, he tried to imagine what it would be like, and he is both underwhelmed but also moved by the simplicity of it.  He says its not pretty or unpretty, it’s just sort of there–a kind of background drone.  It’s also much quieter than he imagined.  The chord is being played by sandbags–there is no keyboard.

The note change (and Darnielle’s visit) was on October 5, 2013.  The next change is in 7 years.  Here’s a list of planned chord changes (note they do not go until 2640)

The piece started with a 17-month rest on September 5, 2001, Cage’s 89th birthday. The first sound appeared on February 5, 2003. Subsequent dates for note changes include:

  • July 5, 2004
  • July 5, 2005
  • January 5, 2006
  • May 5, 2006
  • July 5, 2008
  • November 5, 2008
  • February 5, 2009
  • July 5, 2010
  • February 5, 2011
  • August 5, 2011
  • July 5, 2012
  • October 5, 2013
  • September 5, 2020

Beyond the sound of the chord there are things to see.  An engraved metal panel attached to an iron rail at eye level–these were paid for by people as a funding for this project and they were allowed to write what they liked.

Darnielle was quite moved by the thing although he is concerned because they play the notes of the new chord one at a time–one note builds on the others.  He says the piece is supposed to be just the one chord and that’s it.  (Realistically it allowed the three people who were invited to begin the chord to each have a moment in the spotlight).  Then he realizes that in the course of 639 years (if you were to compress it to a reasonable length) that will seem like a blip or a grave note.

Darnielle notes that Cage can still cause people’s ire to rise, just if you look at all of the YouTube comments on his piece “4’33′”(the silence piece).  People are outraged by it, still.

I really enjoyed Darnielle’s look at this fascinating event.  I really like Cage for his daring.

Here’s a person’s recording of the event

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[ATTENDED: December 7, 2015] Punch Brothers

punchChris Thile is a member of Nickel Creek whose last album I loved.  He’s also appeared multiple times on Tiny Desk Concerts (with several different bands).  And that’s where I saw Punch Brothers for the first time.

Punch Brothers are five guys–Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Paul Kowert (bass).  They play a sort of bluegrass, but with a lot of elements of classical music (their debut has a classical suite on it and now they cover Debussey live).  Other labels given to the band include “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the strictures of modern classical” as well as “American country-classical chamber music.”

That all goes a long way to not really describing what the band sounds like.

The five guys stood around one old timey microphone (like in the poster).  ANd they blew us all away. (more…)

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