Punch Brothers, Aoife O'Donovan | Park West | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Punch Brothers, Aoife O'Donovan Agenda All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Recommended Soundboard

When: Thu., March 1, 8 p.m. 2012

Under the restless leadership of mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, the Punch Brothers have rarely traveled the same path twice, unless you count their clear determination to avoid boilerplate bluegrass—sometimes they sound like a classical-inspired prog band, at others like a weird folk outfit. On their new album, Who's Feeling Young Now? (Nonesuch), the only trace of mountain music is the all-strings instrumentation. They do an instrumental version of "Kid A" and an original, Thile's moody "Movement and Location," that's clearly inspired by Radiohead, but the absence of drums or electric instruments doesn't handicap them—fiddler Gabe Witcher can emulate guitar feedback with high-pitched long tones, while upright bassist Paul Kowert and guitarist Chris Eldridge can simulate heavy riffing with twinned lines (the band is a five-piece, rounded out by banjo player Noam Pikelny). At the same time, you never get the feeling that the Punch Brothers are trying to be a rock band using bluegrass hardware. On the poppy "This Girl" they bring in new colors and textures on each verse or chorus, with brief accents and solos from every member, and on "Flippen" (by Swedish folk group Vasen) they make a tasteful show of their virtuosity by making the tune's complexities seem simple. Thile contines to improve as a songwriter, and on "This Girl" he turns to a God he's not especially subservient to in order to nab the woman he's after: "I'd be the happiest backslider in the world / If you would tell her it's your will for us to be together." These guys keep changing things up and challenging themselves without turning their music into a show-offy display of high-level technique—and I'm looking forward more and more to each new move. —Peter Margasak Aoife O'Donovan opens.

Price: $25, $22 in advance

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