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The Punch Brothers are one classy bluegrass quintet


Adelaide Guitar Festival headliners The Punch Brothers earned a standing ovation at the Town Hall with their smooth bluegrass tunes and ridiculously entertaining showmanship.

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When someone’s awarded the MacArthur Fellowship (otherwise known as “The Genius Grant”), you’ve got no choice but to take them seriously.

Punch Brothers’ member Chris Thile plays his mandolin very seriously, so it’s a deserved honour, for sure. In fact, he plays it so seriously that it’s an embodied thing, an impossible thing to look away from once you’ve caught on.

So is he the draw to this US group? Maybe, but their harmonies are pretty special, as is Noam Pikelny’s semi-duelling, laid-back banjo and Paul Kowert’s constant bass, Gabe Witcher’s violin that stings you along in the depths of each song, and Chris Eldridge’s guitar.

Damn, they’re a smartly dressed bluegrass quintet, but what’s really worth mentioning is the standing ovation in the Adelaide Town Hall. What a perfect venue for this band, with its intimate seating (you can sit anywhere and see them well) and firm acoustics and pipe organ background and blue-lit (red-lit, green-lit) ballroom  lighting – it was all just so classy.

Aside from the music, which blew me away in its varied rhythms and origins (Debussy! They played Debussy! They said he was mad for bluegrass and his dying words – in English – were “Boys, you gotta pick it solid!”), I loved the showmanship.

Thile is ridiculously entertaining, occasionally bordering on theatrical, but what nailed it was the single microphone. This sole prop had the musicians huddled round, which was a wondrous thing. In such close proximity, they played off of each other and with each other in such a way as you’d imagine they did back in the olden days of early bluegrass, when a single mic was all a band needed to be heard on the local radio station.

Honestly, I couldn’t stop swinging my cowgirl-booted feet or stretching my neck like a freaking chicken caught up in a beat, it was just that good. Sorry, but it was a one-off show. But next time they’re in town: now you know.

The Adelaide Guitar Festival continues until Sunday. Read more InDaily Guitar Fest stories and reviews here.

The Punch Brothers were recently nominated for a Grammy for their latest album The Phosphorescent Blues.

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