I was as impressed as John was with the concert. The technical mastery these guys display is truly astonishing. And what’s more, the music is thoroughly enjoyable. Chris has a knack for selecting great songs a la, Wayside (Back In Time), Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, O Santo De Polvora, not to mention the classic Brakeman’s Blues. His own compositions are equally impressive in their own right.
In all fairness, Track 12, Heart In A Cage, has been a topic of discussion amongst bluegrass fans both on this site and elsewhere due to the profanity contained in the opening line of the first verse. The song is a rock tune that, as Chris said from stage, makes a great bluegrass song. But take heed, he does perform the song with offending word included. Chris did warn the audience beforehand that it was coming, giving ample time for a person to decide to use the restroom or get a drink of water during the tune.
Chris Eldridge has become one of my favorite guitar players over the last couple of years before ever hearing him with Thile. After hearing him in this setting I’ve got to say that he possesses a breadth of stylistic ability that is quite impressive. The show moved from hard core bluegrass to rock and then classical or jazz influenced pieces and Eldridge shone on them all.
Noam Pikelny’s banjo playing complements Chris’ mandolin style very well. He’s able to move from a forward roll driven bluegrass tune to something completely off the beaten path with no hesitation and no break in his calm “banjo player demeanor.” He also seemed to know exactly when to step up to the mic with one liner comments that never failed to bring a laugh.
On that topic, I’ll say that the “show” was excellent. Chris seems to have that natural entertainer personality that allows him to be free on stage without seeming unprepared or unthoughtful. He kept the spirit of the show alive between songs and truly entertained the audience, which sadly is something you don’t always see when watching a band of players possessed of this kind of talent.
In closing, Chris’ mandolin playing was superb as expected, but it was also enlivened in a way that I haven’t heard from him in a while. You might say it was excited. I had the chance to speak with him after the show for a few minutes and I got this same impression from our conversation. Chris told me that the band is challenging him every night, and he seems to really be thriving on it.