Two weeks ago I caught the second night of the sold out Punch Brothers stand at the 9:30 Club. I’d seen Noel Pikelney’s solo project but never the full band before. Their performance was very impressive.
Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Harmer opened the show. The friends I was with were very underwhelmed with their set. I was pretty ambivalent. Anais has a distinctive voice and the harmonies were enjoyable. They played a lot of songs off of their new album of old British folk songs. One song was about a curse in which someone was forever being pregnant but never giving birth. Another one seemed to be a first person description of being birthed. Other songs were similarly bizarre. So my main beef with the set, and I suppose also with the album if I were to listen to it, is that the folk songs they are covering aren't very good songs.
While they are all talented musicians, Punch Brothers are very much Chris Thile's band. If he wasn't so outrageously talented, he's the type of performer that I would intensely dislike. He hams it up for the crowd, is overly cheerful, and shouted "Ahoy!" at the audience about every five minutes. But he's so good on the mandolin that I can't dislike him.
The band's set was heavy on songs from their last two albums, with some great covers of Radiohead and guitarist Chris Eldridge's dad's bluegrass band. They favored their more uptempo songs, which suited the high energy of the performance. Thile and fiddle player Gabe Witcher were prone to get into musical duels, with Witcher impressively able to keep up with the mandolin virtuoso.