Seven years after their “Farewell for Now” tour in 2007, Nickel Creek – the precocious bluegrass child prodigies who’ve grown into some of the best progressive string band musicians of this or any generation – reunited this year for their 25th anniversary tour.
You may ask how a band with players in their early-to-mid-30s has a 25th anniversary tour. Well, mandolin mad man Chris Thile was nine when the band first formed, and neither of the Watkins siblings were teenagers back in 1989.
It doesn’t really matter. I’m just glad they’ve come back together for this tour. And I was thrilled to see this group of talented musicians – anchored by veteran bass player Mark Schatz – last evening in Charlottesville.
I was at the downtown mall pavilion for the 2007 farewell tour…and I was at the same place for the reunion last evening. If you don’t believe me, I have the t-shirts to prove it!
In addition to the reunion tour, Thile, fiddler Sara Watkins, guitarist Sean Watkins, and Schatz released a new CD entitled A Dotted Line, their first in eight years. Last evening’s show was equal parts material from the new album and old fan favorites.
With Rest of My Life, the opening tune from the new album, I was reminded last night about how different this band is than Thile’s other major project, The Punch Brothers. Nickel Creek has always been about songs – not just players with amazing chops playing incredibly complex tunes. Nickel Creek has chops aplenty, as seen with the terrific instrumentals they played in Charlottesville. The band ripped through Scotch and Chocolate, The Smoothie Song, and Ode to a Butterfly – all well-known pieces from their canon that elicited roars of delight from the crowd within the first three or four notes. But in the songs they picked from A Dotted Line as well as from earlier albums, they reminded us all that they have great musical tastes and an interplay that can only come from growing up together.
There were many highlights from the 90 minute+ show. Besides the opener, other tunes from the new album that were favorites included Sean’s 21st of May about the rapture that never came; the instrumental Elephant in the Corn (which featured Thile’s introduction about how their naming of instrumentals had improved with the time off – so much so that this song has its own shirt, which I also have); and the rocker/murder ballad Hayloft (with the lyrics, “My daddy’s got a gun, you better run…” you can guess the subject matter). Thile has described Hayloft as like a “Gatorade shower” on the listener, and reviewers note that in the hands of Nickel Creek this oddity becomes a romp with chops.
Oh, what the heck. There’s a great video of this song from last week’s show at the Ryman Auditorium. Take a look if you want some fun.
There was also plenty from the band’s earlier albums to delight long-time fans. It was so good to hear When You Come Back Down, This Side, and – of course – The Fox to wrap up the set. When Thile started that familiar mandolin chop, the crowd exploded.
So, to wrap this up, let’s have one video from the new album, the Sara Watkins tune Destination.
And for old times sake, let’s give another listen to the version of The Fox from Merlefest, where Claire and I heard this version live. A true signature tune that never grows old.
More to come…