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Punch Brothers keep it not only simple, but great

The Theatre at Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, January 19, 2022

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Whereas "Hell on Church Street" is Punch Brothers' tribute and interpretation of Tony Rice's "Church Street Blues" album, the quintet's concert was its live shout-out to the late, great guitarist. Although the act lined up around the microphone like an upside-down V, this was somewhat where the traditional bluegrass comparison begins and ends because this Punch Brothers' set touched upon so much more than just familiar bluegrass sounds.

Led by the sometimes awkward looking (but nevertheless brilliant) mandolinist, Chris Thile, the group, which also includes Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (acoustic guitar). Paul Kowert (bass) and Gabe Witcher (fiddle), many times mixed in rhythms not usually associated with bluegrass, including the rock-ish "The Angel of Doubt" and downhome country of "Any Old Time." An older one, "Magnet," even featured Witcher beating on his fiddle as though it were a drum.

The act performed a few noteworthy covers toward the end of the evening. One was a quirky take on Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind." "Pride of Man was played with Sunday morning preacher authority, while a take on Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" breathed new life into this old folk song.

Thile had fun explaining how to make a Jungle Bird, before playing the instrumental with that name, and had the audience standing, clapping and singing along to show-closer "Rye Whiskey." Here, the audience matched Thile's enthusiasm.

Punch Brothers proved that five instrumentalists and a microphone can create quite a variety of different sounds. No video screens. No special lighting. Just great music. This made for a simple, but highly effective and entertaining formula.

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