Punch Brothers bring a little bit of fantastic to Atlanta

Live review: Punch Brothers and Jesca Hoop at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 4/21/12

If Wilco can be called the American Radiohead, then surely Punch Brothers can be considered the Bluegrass Radiohead. Not that all bands must be held to the Radiohead standard, but when a band evolves, takes chances and goes all experimental, the comparison is allowed. Even Punch Brothers basic song construction, in some cases, sounds a bit Radioheadish. Leader of the group Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, The Goat Rodeo Sessions) also exhibits a thing for Thom Yorke’s group. “Kid A” is featured prominently on the new Who’s Feeling Young Now? (Nonesuch) and the boys have covered a number of their songs live.

The wonderful “Don’t Get Married Without Me” kicked off the set. Thile (prounounced “THEE-lee”) and the rest of the “newgrass” quintet seem as close to virtuosos a five-piece can get. Rounding out the band are Gabe Witcher (violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (acoustice guitar) and Paul Kowert (stand-up bass). These guys are all rock stars and not the traditional kind. No drums, no electric guitars, no synth. Just five dudes standing on stage, playing the strings. Total rock stars. If you don’t believe it, check them out. Thile does the solos like Eddie Van Halen, just in a purer form. And with a mandolin.

All five Brothers had established careers playing with other people and got together in 2006. The name was taken from the Mark Twain short story “Punch, Brothers, Punch.” Using a Twain title is perfect: likeable and pervasively honest, just like the band. Various members of the group joked and chatted with audience members throughout the evening, but it was the music that mattered.

World class original music is their specialty, but they are also known for all those covers. This evening was no different, as the band played some great tunes from the likes of Beck, Radiohead (of course), Gillian Welch and The Cars (see set list below). For the finale, a wonderfully emotional cover of The Band’s “The Weight” (it had only been two days since the passing of Levon Helm). This was a tribute by Punch Brothers, but as you see in the video, the entire audience was involved.

Watch “The Weight”

It was a lively evening and Punch Brothers are now known as one of those collectives that create a hybrid sound. This was their fourth trip to the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta and the first to sell out. It appears that their sound – however experimental it may be – is a refreshing change from the status quo that you get on the radio hour after hour. Please, see them live.

Californian Jesca Hoop warmed up the crowd very nicely with a guitar and an exquisite voice that can be compared with no one elses. She has toured with Elbow and Peter Gabriel and exhibits a powerful presence while remaining somewhat grounded in her banter. With a very dry sense of humor, her opening gig was almost a conversation with fans. Very funny and very effective. New fans were made that night.

Touring in support of her upcoming release The House That Jack Built (June 25), Hoop has built a following with her sensual and personal style of performing. Thile joined her onstage for a sweet duet, and she returned the favor by joining the boys for a song. Before she had a chance to begin, though, Punch Brothers sang her a rousing “Happy Birthday.” She was embarassed. And happy.

Punch Brothers Set list
Don’t Get Married Without Me, New York City, Next To The Trash, Flippen, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, Clara, Missy, The Blind Leaving The Blind, Sexx Laws (Beck cover), Train On The Island, Hundred Dollars, Kid A (Radiohead cover), Wayside/Back In Time (Gillian Welch cover), Happy Birthday (w/Jesca Hoop), Just What I Needed (The Cars cover), Watch ‘at Breakdown, Rye Whiskey.

Patchwork Girlfriend, Movement And Location, The Weight (The Band cover).

105. ELBOW, 8/8/09

Venue: Center Stage, Atlanta
Supporting Act(s): Jesca Hoop
In the Company of: Pete M.

There are few greater experiences than being surprised. And surprised this examiner was when attendeding an Elbow concert for the first time. Actually, stunned is the word. After becoming familiar with this superb quintet just recently, this was worth the risk. It can genuinely be said, ladies and gentlemen, that the clouds parted that evening in Atlanta.

Hailing from the musically rich city of Manchester, England, Elbow just came off a supporting role on Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour. My humble prediction is that their supporting days are officially over. However, on this night, they were the deserved headliners. The band’s name reportedly comes from the BBC mini-series “The Singing Detective,” in which Philip Marlow believes the word “elbow” to be the most sensuous word in the English language. Not necessarily for the definition, but for the feeling one gets when saying it.

After four studio albums which garnered massive critical success but limited commercial success, Elbow won the UK’s coveted and respected Mercury Prize in 2008 for their latest album The Seldom Seen Kid. Commercial success may finally be on their horizon.

Fronted by the dynamic and intensely charismatic Guy Garvey (lead vocals, guitar, and sometimes percussion), the band includes Mark Potter (guitar, backing vocals), brother Craig Potter (keyboards, organ, backing vocals), Pete Turner (bass guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), and Richard Jupp (drums). These five men make up the most well-oiled machine I’ve heard live in years. The musicianship is phenomenal, the vocals are emotionally brilliant, and the fans are incredible. newcomers surely felt like part of a minority in the crowd that night, not knowing every lyric.

Elbow kicked off the show with “Starlings,” the first track off their latest release. With Jupp at the drums, the remainder of the band stood at the foot of the stage, trumpets in hand to begin the song. Next up was the wonderful “The Bones Of You” (“So I’m there / Charging around with a juggernaut brow / Overdraft speeches and deadlines to make / Cramming commitments like cats in a sack…”).

On “Mirrorball,” a disco visual was resurrected with a huge mirror ball hanging high above the stage, reflecting onto everyone in the audience. On “Grounds For Divorce,” Garvey snatched up a pair of drumsticks and furiously beat a single drum. He is not just a singer, he is the heart and soul of Elbow. Singing “I’ve been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce / Polishing a compass that I hold in my sleep / Doubt comes in on sticks but then he kicks like a horse,” Garvey showcases his impressive song writing abilities which are exhibited in every song.

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“Weather To Fly” had Garvey asking us, in a high falsetto, “Are we having the time of our lives / Are we coming across clear / Are we coming across fine / Are we part of the plan here?” The answer is yes, yes, yes, and yes.

One of the more uplifting and poignant moments of the night came with the brilliant “One Day Like This.” Uplifting because of Garvey’s lyrics; poignant because the fans knew, felt, and sang all the words…and they’re great words: “What made me behave that way? / Using words I never say / I can only think it must be love / Oh anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day.” To hear that full Center Stage crowd singing in unison, “It’s looking like a beautiful day!” was exhilarating and I hated being the newcomer.

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To experience this performance was to understand what is special about Elbow. Garvey repeatedly expressed his excitement of being in the “Lost City of Atlantis.” The Center Stage felt like such the mystical place that night. From rock to acoustic to orchestral, Elbow hit on all cylinders and kept on surprising with each new song. And when, during this their final show, he expressed that this was the best show their tour, the crowd believed.

Jesca Hoop warmed the crowd up sufficiently with her singer/songwriter acoustic set. Guy Garvey even lent himself to a duet with her.

Set List:
The Bones Of You
Leaders Of The Free World
The Stops
Mexican Standoff
Grounds For Divorce
The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver
Switching Off
Weather To Fly
One Day Like This

Some Riot
Station Approach
Scattered Black And Whites