Opening with Josh Ritter cover, “Another New World”, mandolinist and master of ceremonies, Chris Thile, wiggled and wormed in musical syncopation. The man is an instrument himself, with his mandolin as the conduit of his expression. He’d stand close to each of his fellow band mates at different instrumental interludes, and stare them in the eye as if to challenge them to a finger race. Thile would smile or nod in approval, as they matched him superbly.
Each member demonstrated their uniqueness and musical proficiency. Bajoist, Noam Pikelny’s fingers moved like Mexican jumping beans on the fretboard. Paul Kowert, on the double bass, laid the foundation and plucked the groove, hypnotizing every head in the audience to bob, back and fourth. Gabe Witcher loomed on the fiddle, adding emotional dimensions and giving the devil in Georgia a run for his money. And Chris Eldridge, an Oberlin alma mater, layered the rhythmic punch, whether sweet and sultry or hard and aggressive.
With Bluegrass at their roots, Punch Brothers played several foot-stompin’ favorites including “Rye Whiskey” and original “Hundred Dollars”. They also invoked classical traces with “The Blind Leaving the Blind: Fourth Movement” and trekked into bluegrass infused rock territory with The White Stripes cover, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”.
For an encore, the band returned literally unplugged and performed an a capella version of the Irish ballad, “The Auld Triangle.” The final song, a Mclusky cover, “Icarus Smicarus”, rang through the church and every audience member rose and wailed in astonishment. Another fine, if not baffling performance by the Punch Brothers that left music aficionados with the taste of Amarone wine in their mouth and Oberlin music students something they could only hope to reach.