Punch Brothers Bring Progressive Bluegrass Sound to Austin City Limits
Andrew Miller

From stage right, the sounds of Punch Brothers tuning their instruments created the backstage area into a makeshift orchestra pit. The blue lights were shining on the stage, the cameras were ready and at 8:00 PM the band faced the crowd beaming with smiles. Lead singer Chris Thile proclaimed: “We have wanted to do this for so long;” making it very clear they were living out their childhood dreams. With those few words, they quickly opened the set with “Movement and Location,” revealing the talent of the group and showcasing the skill of every musician on stage. On the heels of the opening song, the band broke into “Next to the Trash,” at times waltzing around the stage to the rhythm and ending the song with a duel between Thile on the mandolin and Gabe Witcher on fiddle.

There was never a dull moment throughout the night as songs from past albums such as “Wayside (Back in Time)” and “Missy” pleased the die hard fans, while “Clara”, “Patchwork Girlfriend” and “Hundred Dollars” held the attention of fans new and old. Although every member of the group showcased their talents during the nearly two-hour performance, the virtuosos never took control of the spotlight. The energy and immense talent never left the room and although the night consisted of original songs, the band’s cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” allowed them to add their own dissonant flair to the song with the ominous fluttering fiddle, banjo and heavy picking of the mandolin. To finish the night, Punch Brothers chose the upbeat tune “Rye Whiskey ”giving the crowd one more exciting experience.

For the encore, “New York City” and “Don’t Get Married Without Me” were played for a second time, however, the crowd did not seem to mind as it was a chance to spend more time with the group. After the encore they finished the night by paying homage to Earl Scruggs by performing “Groundspeed” and Levon Helm by performing The Band’s song “Ophelia”. For a band pinned as a bluegrass group, the Punch Brothers have an immeasurable amount of talent and imagination allowing them to branch out to fans of all genres of music.

Photo by Scott Newton. Courtesy of ACL TV.

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