Punch Brothers at Vic Theatre | Concert preview
Chris Thile’s quintet stretches the boundaries of bluegrass.
With bluegrass traditionalists, fusion acts and flat-out poseurs proliferating at a rate fast enough to sustain an incessant new crop of roots festivals, it’s useful to have an act that works as a reliable frame of reference. While the references the Punch Brothers provide aren’t exactly rural Appalachia, the band offers invaluable perspective when it comes to gauging just what bluegrass is capable of in the 21st century, to the extent that the term bluegrass, or folk or whatever even does the outfit justice.
Led by mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek, the quintet serves as the perfect outlet for his skills and eclectic tastes, not to mention those of his equally adept cohorts. Case in point: the new Ahoy! EP, which showcases the Bros’ love of interpretation, from Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings’s “Down Along the Dixie Line” (a no-brainer) to Mclusky’s acidic “Icarus Smicarus” (totally left field). They also return a favor to singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, who co-wrote a pair of tracks on this year’s typically fine Who’s Feeling Young Now?, by tackling his wordy epic, “Another New World.”
Of course, those albums and covers serve only as a guide. Live, the Punch Brothers relish the chance to keep their fans and each other on their toes by tossing out the script and following their collective musical curiosity to its fruition, exploring everything the songs and soloists have to offer, and then demanding more.