Some things just have a feel. Monday has a feel. Football season has a feel, as you can smell it coming over the coast of Lake Michigan in late August on that first (and perhaps only) day when it’s not sweltering hot and humid. The Punch Brothers NYE show had a feel. To give it a little extra zing, the band even dressed in tuxes! Time seemed to have a bit more of a crunch as the show was an hour later than the previous two and had that impending countdown. A glass ceiling of happiness above us!
Throughout the beginning parts of the set, Noam “Pickles” Pikelny (the banjo player, with eternally dry wit) would passively say a number. It took a few to follow what he was doing at first. I mean, the guy is so DRY one can just never tell what he’s up to. Well, I guess you can, but it was a nice gag, starting in the thousands, periodically, throughout the evening.
From the way the setlist was written, and executed, it’s clear there was a plan to slay the audience with upbeat songs, then just before midnight unsheathe the final “Surf’s Up” (covered extensively in Day 1) and have an all-out calamity jam of “Watch ‘at Breakdown” while the clock strikes 2013. The setlist (as pictured below) even spells out the specific time to the second (aren’t these guys cute?) that those two songs were to be played. This strategy was a dead give away when the band uncorked “Rye Whiskey” as the second song. Everyone was stomping and the night just had that extra boost of energy you’d expect. Each night, and each song, I felt gained steam throughout the three nights. Perhaps, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but hey, it makes logical sense.
I always love to see “The Beekeeper” (watch Thile's solo from 1:07 to 1:52...wow. Unreal.) on the setlist. I think that’s a song you can play for anybody that doesn’t understand how good this band is. The swirling sounds Noam gets out of his banjo as well as the Thile bridge are astouding. It’s just a mind blowing experience. I specifically wondered if they would play it, as I’m not sure exactly how popular it is. I was also elated to get the title track off WFYN and a favorite tongue-in-cheeker off Antifogmatic “Next to the Trash.” If you went to all three shows, you started to check off some of the songs you hadn’t heard yet, wondering if they’ll leave them behind. Those three specifically were clutch in my book, including the Gabe Witcher (fiddle player) sung “Hundred Dollars.”
Chris came out before the opening set to personally introduce Michael Daves, which, I’ve always thought is a neat touch. At that point, you saw the tux, and the NYE spirit began to spread its way through the Bowery Ballroom. As always, they brought him back out for the encore and had a wondrous hootenanny and jamboree. Daves is a joy to watch, because he has such an upright rocking posture. As opposed to Thile, who kind of gyrates in a cyclical dunking bird pendulum, making faces as if he’s being possessed by mandolin ghosts (perhaps that explains the talent), Daves seems to put his head down as if aerodynamics are a factor and just shred. They are a delightful combination. Daves by himself might be a little to “classical bluegrass” for me, but I’m glad I got to see him play. He’s a super nice guy and the perfect fit for where he was slated amongst the nights.
Chris Eldrich (the guitar player) looks like Gabe from The Office. Especially when he goes on his own jam rage(s) of concentration. It reminds of that scene when Gabe wants to get under Andy Bernard’s (Ed Helms) skin keeping him away from Erin. He plays guitar kind of like that, under pressure, and when you jam like the Punch Brothers do, there’s no shortage of pressure situations.
It was certainly a great year for the Punch Brothers. WFYN is one of the top albums of the year. Chris Thile won the MacArthur Grant for $500,000 as part of their “genius awards” giving an unaccountable ledger to pursue a vision of creativity. They toured their asses off and successfully blew the doors off the Bowery Ballroom three straight nights to sold out audiences—many of whom attended all three shows. Love the addition of backing projectors and ceiling lanterns. SUPER PASS!
I thought they were spectacular in 2011 with Antifogmatic and a slew of P-Bingo Nights. 2012 was even better! The one thing these shows didn’t have was a double encore. How about that for a New Years resolution?
I just can’t get enough.
P.S. Occasionally throughout the evening, the band would attack each other with a little stuffed hippo. That's all.
My double encore: Highs and Lows over the three nights…
Covers – I heard many of the covers I wanted to and was astounded by the zeal put into properly pulling off a THE Beach Boys.
The Energy – It’s good to see with all the touring that these guys seem to like each other and SEEM to be genuinely having a good time. That’s always my favorite thing about a show, and a band that I adore and look for. I love the Thile gyrations and giddiness towards music and life in general. These guys just get it.
Aoife O’Donovan – Be still my delicate heart. Induct “Soon or Never” into one of my favorite all-time songs. Also, listen to more Gillian Welch.
Rye Whiskey – That song makes me want to be a classier drinker. Perhaps in the 2013, I’ll find my way to sipping on whiskey, rather than downing so many beers. It’s a hell of a stomp, man.
Setlist shuffling – Call me a perfectionist, but, I would have been fine with a LITTLE more variation. Ryan Adams played three consecutive Town Hall shows in ’06 without repeating a single song. I can’t imagine not hearing “Flippen” or “Rye Whiskey,” but there were a few things I could have done without every night. In this instance, there is no way to please everyone.
Blind Leaving the Blind – They played the Third Movement twice. I would have liked to hear them all at some point. Perhaps, to hear it played in its entirety. I’d imagine there is only so many 15 minute songs a band wants to relearn for a three-night concert stand.
Drunk – I probably didn’t need multiple vodka-Red Bulls for the NYE show. Especially after midnight. I am a gremlin. I hope the section of the show I can’t remember I didn’t act like others did previous nights when drunkards were annoying me. Night One especially, there were many people that were being rude. That comes with the territory of being at Bowery, with alcohol, and the show being late, I was just surprised.
Three Nights – I know it was probably perfect, but why did it have to END? I could have done seven.
Boll-Weevil (Traditional cover)
Who’s Feeling Young Now
Bailey (Punch B-Side)
I Know You Know
Dark Days (Hunger Games Soundtrack)
Next to the Trash
Surf’s Up (Beach Boys cover)
Watch ‘at Breakdown
No Concern of Yours
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (Bach cover)
Reptilia (Strokes cover)
Brakeman’s Blues (Jimmie Rodgers cover)