One of the best things about being off the clock, is that I get to accept invitations  to awesome daytime happenings, in which I would never have had the opportunity to partake. At my last gig I remember watching the news one morning when a free Stevie Wonder mini-concert was announced, taking place that morning, for charity. Fully dressed for work, I called in with diarrhea. My boss was speechless and suggested I take a sick day. The word alone mortified him, let alone my very forward assertion that I, in fact, had the dreaded diarrhea. Stevie was great and played a half-dozen classics.

As a freebird, I was free to accept my friend’s invitation to come to see a show at her job. She works at Warner Brothers Records in Burbank, which looks like a modern treehouse, I half expected Ewoks. Something about Burbank, I always expect Sand People, Jawas, and Ewoks. I had googled and youtubed the band, Punch Brothers, so I was prepared to have my heart yanked from my chest and hacky sacked by their songs.

This same friend introduced me to Swell Season a few years ago, but without any warning. I was completely unprepared and, once I had the record, I cried for days. I think that, much like a “Parental Advisory” label, there should be an “Sensitivity Advisory” for people like me, who cry when they see old people or AT&T commercials. Punch Brothers would definitely get the Sensitivity Advisory label.

Rye whiskey cocktails, with block ice, muddled mint and cherries, served by barkeeps in newsboys caps, set the spirited tone. Drinking such ballsy cocktails, with the sun still high in the sky, turned the Warner Brothers tree house into a speakeasy during prohibition. When it was show time, I positioned myself next the film crew, with a great view, but with a hundred and fifty people in a glass walled room, there wasn’t a “bad seat” in the house. WB employees sat cross-legged on the shag carpeted room, people stood in the back and poured out into the  sun drenched courtyard. I ended up with an adorable puppy at my feet, literally, these folks bring their dogs to work. The puppy helped me from openly crying during the band’s performance. These dudes are the real thing.

The boss at Nonesuch Records, a lovely man named Bob, who’d dubbed himself a Punch Uncle, after professing “I wish I was a Punch Brother”, introduced the band. Suited up, carrying their stringed instruments, the five gentlemen who make up Punch Brothers took to the stage and the ride began. I never knew that strings could have such rhythm, but bless their bluegrass hearts, it was a footstompin’ good time. Proving with a hard stage, enthusiasm and dress shoes, you don’t need a drummer.

(Photo: Justin Coloma)

Each song began quietly and internally, and with his eyes closed and his body acting as a click track, you can literally watch mandolin player and “front man” Chris Thile catch the groove. Like a river made of many smaller parts, that’s how Punch Brothers’ songs build, made of many ripples, with a strong current and finally rapids. The vocal harmonies weave through the landscape of the song and, pushing ahead, Chris Thile’s voice hit such clean notes, those angelic Jeff Buckley notes, that make your heart swim up into your throat. Then, finding respite in the jam, they’d break it down so hard that I wanted to rename them Funk Brothers. The richness and droning sustain of the standing bass, combined with the intricasies of the fiddling, created a sound that was almost electronic. Funny how that happens.

Punch Brothers new album is called “Who’s Feeling Young Now?”. Check http://www.punchbrothers.com for tour dates and go see ’em, they’ll melt your face and your heart.

 

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