Progress with a Punch
Progress comes in many forms.
When Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelny, Chris Eldridge and Paul Kowert take the stage at Farthing Auditorium Friday night, people will find that progress in music comes in the form of Punch.
The group of virtuosic musicians, collectively known as Punch Brothers, just released its third album, “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” on Feb. 14. Shortly afterward, they embark on a national tour in support of the new release. The first show of the tour is in Boone on Feb. 17.
With mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and stand-up bass in hand, Punch Brothers may look like a bluegrass or old-time string band, but when the music starts, that notion immediately falls away.
The aforementioned styles have no doubt influenced them, but chamber music, folk, jazz, country, rock and others have, as well. Punch Brothers transcend definition. They stand as true individualists, unlike any other offering in modern music.
Assembled by former Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile in 2006, the group, then known as “How to Grow a Band,” first served as Thile’s back-up on his fifth solo outlet, “How to Grow a Woman.” In 2008, they assumed the name, Punch Brothers, and released their debut, “Punch.”
The men, all in their 20s at the time, found themselves bonding over not only music, but also pints of beer and failed relationships. As musical and personal connections grew, the band evolved into more of a brotherhood.
Thile, being the primary singer and lyricist of Punch Brothers, is oft-regarded as the bandleader, but the spotlight becomes broader with each passing album. While their debut focused largely on a 40-minute suite written by Thile, 2010’s “Antifogmatic” was comprised of collaborative material.
According to the band’s guitarist, Chris Eldridge, “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” is even more of a statement of what Punch Brothers sounds like as a band.
“I think we have coalesced much more as an actual unit, whereas the sum is now greater than all the parts,” he said. “I think that’s something that took us a few years to kind of really find out how we work the best as an ensemble and what our strengths are.”
Of their strong suits, merging the old and the new has proven to be a major attraction. Eldridge said Punch Brothers’ members have gotten more comfortable with the music they grew up with, but at the same time, they are always embracing the music of their contemporaries. Their niche is one that merges classical and traditional bluegrass with sounds more akin to acts like Radiohead and The Strokes. Original material, and even their covers, breaches musical territory that is rarely visited.
“The Punch Brothers has always been a band that’s tried to make our own music,” Eldridge said.
“We’ve been wanting to make music that’s reflective of right now as opposed to being a band that is curating music of the past, however great that music might be. The Punch Brothers has always been a band that’s tried to make our own music.”
Punch Brothers may borrow some from the past, but making music that moves into the future is their goal. Eldridge said, with “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” their aim is improving.
“Our ears are more attuned to the music that is happening and is being created around us right now in the world than the music that was being created decades ago,” he said. “Even though we love all that old traditional bluegrass – really love it – that’s not where our heads are creatively.”
While their current work distances the band from bluegrass, Eldridge said Punch Brothers still holds a great admiration for bluegrass and Appalachia, the area with which it is most associated.
“There’s just a soulfulness to that whole area of the country, North Carolina, in particular,” he said. “I think it’s just a beautiful, soulful place. It’s got deep roots, and I love being there.”
As for Punch Brothers starting its U.S. tour in Boone, he said, “It’s definitely a town that loves music, and that’s a good place for us to be.”
The Punch Brothers concert begins at 8 p.m. in Farthing Auditorium on the campus of Appalachian State University. Doors to the facility open at 7 p.m., and auditorium doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students 18 and younger, $10 for ASU students and $5 for children 5 and under. Tickets may be purchased at the Farthing Auditorium box office, online at http://www.pas.appstate.edu or by phone at (800) 841-2787.
Prior to the concert, Punch Brothers will hold a Q&A session from 5 to 5:30 p.m. at Rosen Concert Hall, located in the Broyhill Music Center on campus. Ticketholders to the evening’s concert must present their ticket at the Q&A in order to be admitted. Tickets will be sold on site at the Q&A session, starting at 4:30 p.m. Only cash and check will be accepted.
For more information on Punch Brothers, visit http://www.punchbrothers.com.