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Tuesday September 30th 2014

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Punch It Up A Notch

Punch Brothers Perform at Vinyl Music Hall
By Kate Peterson

The bluegrass stylings of the Punch Brothers will take the stage of Vinyl Music Hall, and from all reports we are in for a musical extravaganza.

According to local musician William Howell of The Eighteen String Army, “The Punch Brothers are literally heralded by the world’s top musicians. Yet they’re all in their ‘party prime’ age. So they’re cool to an entire generation of people that wouldn’t be exposed to music of this caliber, normally. Their peers and the public respect them. They’re just five guys with acoustic instruments that step up to the microphone and melt people’s brains out.”

The Punch Brothers are a young band both in age and in the time spent recording music. They have three albums under their belt so far, and more in the hopper. IN caught up with banjo player Noam Pikelny just before the band took stage in Eugene, Ore. They are currently on tour promoting their recently released album, “Antifogmatic”.

Pikelny has been with the band from the beginning. They all had connections when they met in 2006. Guitar player Chris Eldridge (aka Critter) and fiddle player Gabe Witcher grew up playing bluegrass and folk in Southern California. They were not a band officially until later. The first time they played together was during a chance encounter backstage at a Yonder Mountain String Band show. They jammed backstage after the show and had such a wonderful time playing they
took the collaboration back to a motel and played the rest of the night.

Pikelny says, “Chris Thile was already a musical hero, and to have the opportunity to jam with him and the rest of the group was magical.”

Pretty soon after the jam session, all four of the musicians aligned their schedules and jammed in Nashville, Tenn. The connection was so powerful, they decided they needed to do it more often. The next project was a string quartet, classical with a folk improvisation–a grand experiment. Following that gathering, there was a call to make a record as a band. With no predetermined direction, it became an outlet for them all. They had their band.

Thile was in New York, and the others were flying there to rehearse. They were working on a very ambitious piece. According to Pikelny, “It was so much fun.” Each of the band members was working on other projects, but they started to wrap those up, and have been all in ever since.

Pikelny says, “I didn’t think there was any real possibility of this group materializing. Thile was with his former band Nickel Creek already.” He goes on to say. “The experience all of us had playing together was so satisfying, had such potential, that we were investing ourselves into it.”

Describing where the band is now, Pikelny says, “First we started playing live, we made a promise to each other to give it five years, to see the potential. We are coming up on that now and feel we are just scratching the surface. It has not been boring at any point.”

The song “The Blind Leading the Blind” on the album “Punch” was Thile’s opus. There was so much work involved in that album by all the members of the band. It was a 45-minute suite in four movements.

Then came “Antifogmatic”, which was more of a collaborative process. Pikelny says, “This was the album when we all realized we needed to be in the same place, physically as well as in our careers. Everyone wrapped up their individual projects and moved to New York City. In the beginning we were all crashing at Thile’s. Now we were all in New York. We began treating rehearsals and writing like a day job, six hours a day, five days a week.”

Punch Brothers also began performing in public the pieces they were working. They would showcase what progress had been made in a variety show called “P-Bingo”. Originally, it was performed in a place called The Living Room in New York City. It was a weekly show that once they started touring became monthly, then quarterly. It is now performed in the Bowery Ballroom four times a year.

According to Pikelny, “It turned instrumentals into real collaboration. We were able to get instant feedback from the crowd, since it was such close quarters. In the deluxe version of the album “Antifogmatic”, there is live footage from those sessions.”

Where the band will be in five years is hard to tell. The Punch Brothers are driven by music, and they constantly find ways to stay interested and challenged.

As Pikelny says, “There is excitement in taking the music on the road. A new audience each time keeps it interesting. If we stay true to our mission of making high-quality music that has never been done before, not new for new sake, then we will be around for a long time.”

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PUNCH BROTHERS
WHEN: 9 p.m. Sunday, April 3
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $18-$23
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com