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Believe it...Nickel Creek gets better and better

The Theatre at The Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, October 11, 2023

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

With the release of "Celebrants" earlier this year, Nickel Creek returned – so to speak – to active duty, and the trio was so good during this downtown show, it might have made you want to shout, 'Oh, how we've missed you!' These master musicians had the audience in awe from start to finish.

The act consists of mandolinist Chris Thile in the middle, flanked by Sean Watkins (guitar) and his sister Sara (fiddle). The group may be categorized as bluegrass, but it is just as much a progressive (acoustic) rock and singer/songwriter band. Yes, Sara can play hoedown fiddle with the best of them, but she also laid down her instrument to sing the lovely ballad, "Sabra Girl." Thile also has a droll sense of humor. He became mock political, for instance, when speaking of how the GPS is quickly replacing the need for lighthouses before going into "The Lighthouse Tale."

Thile is one of the best mandolin players alive, and his many solos were simply jaw-dropping. Both he and Sara were constantly moving, too, dancing and really getting into it. Sean was the least mobile member, but played equally skillfully and sounded great singing the tender "Somebody More Like You." Adding to the act's skill level was its spot-on harmony vocals. Having sibling harmonies made this singing even better.

Some of these songs expressed bluegrass sounds, but with shifting rhythms and melodic twists, it's easy to imagine why progressive rock fans must also appreciate Nickel Creek. However, these more progressive sounds never became too complicated and math-rock-y. The group always retains a kind of downhome feel.

Hawktail opened the show, but with fiddler Brittany Haas under the weather, the act was reduced to just a bass player and a guitarist. However, this duo's performance of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" sure sounded like a full band rendition. These two players are just that good.

With its fantastic concert, Nickel Creek made this audience oh so glad to have this trio back. If you can believe it, this act just keeps getting better and better.

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