The Punch Brothers – June 13th – Denver Botanic Gardens

The Punch Brothers 0617-9510Photos by Tim Dwenger

The Scene: My first Botanic Gardens concert of the year is always the first true marker of summer.  The blossoms, the warm air, the threatening clouds, and the wine, oh the wine.  There are very few summer traditions in this town closer to my heart than packing up a picnic and some wine, and heading to the gardens for a show.  Over the years I’ve seen some great ones, from Bruce Hornsby to Gordon Lightfoot, and from Sharon Jones to St. Vincent, it’s always special.  The ritual, the beauty, and the people . . . the gardens Summer Concert Series attracts a great group of folks who aren’t necessarily frequenting the live music scene but definitely appreciate music – I call them the “Wine & Cheesers” – and they’re great!  It’s a wonder, and if you haven’t been, I recommend it.

Opener: Gaby Moreno. Kicking off my first show of the season was the mesmerizing (and Grammy Nominated) Gaby Moreno.  Hailing from Guatemala, Moreno is a wonderful singer-songwriter who blends Blues, Jazz, Soul, and R&B into a great tapestry of song that transfixed the crowd from the moment she took the stage.  Her songs were peaceful and beautiful in the tranquil gardens setting as she danced between English and Spanish lyrics.  Accompanied by the Austin based (and legend in his own right) David Garza, the duo set a very high bar, but it was one that the uniquely talented Punch Brothers cleared with grace.

Punch Brothers: Led by the incomparable Chris Thile, The Punch Brothers are at the forefront of the progressive Bluegrass movement and they blend Folk, Classical, and Bluegrass with an effortlessness that is almost uncanny.  Within seconds of taking the stage the band had the audience eating from the palm of their collective hand.  Early in the set the band showcased their instrumental chops on “The Hops of Goldenberg;” a song that Thile professed to be about beer and then continued the alcohol theme with “Rye Whiskey.”

As the band wove their way through “Another New World” I found myself transfixed.  The rambling tale of a seafaring tragedy spoke to me and I promised myself I’d pick up the Ahoy! album the very next day.  I was again amazed when Thile and company shifted gears from Folk and Bluegrass to a classical piece (originally written for piano) by the French composer Claude Debussy.  During the introduction to this song we got a glimpse into the sense of humor of banjo player Noam Pikelny (aka Pickles) when he spun a yarn about Debussy’s last words being “Boys, you’ve got to pick it solid.”  As the chuckles died down, the band proved they were deadly serious about tackling the song and wow’d the crowd with the intricate arrangement.

Throughout the evening I was stunned at how silent, respectful, and generally awestruck the audience at the Gardens was.  The sense of appreciation for the music was palpable and there is no doubt that the band felt it.  As the set wound down the quintet ran through “Little Lights” and “New Chance Blues” before stepping off stage for a brief encore break.  When they returned Thile wished happy birthday to their tour manager Jason Thompson and joked that he is so integral to the inner workings of the band when they are on the road that they almost asked him to go out and get a cake and candles to help celebrate the moment.  After a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” the show wrapped up with the poignant “New York City” followed by the unmistakable message of “This Is The Song (Good Luck)” to give us hope in these uncertain times and send us on our way.

Good luck, good luck, good luck
These are tough times
But we’ll get by
Good luck
These are tough times
But we’ll get by
Good luck
These are tough time
But we’ll get by
Good luck

Energy: A+
Musicianship: A+
Sound: C+
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: N/A

Overall: A-


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Who Is Timothy Dwenger

Music has always been a part of my life. It probably all started listening to old Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel records that my parents had, but it wasn't long before they were taking me to concerts like Starship, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Huey Lewis & The News. I got the bug to write about music after reviewing an Eric Clapton concert for a creative writing project in high school but didn't really take it up seriously until 2002. Since then I have published countless articles in The Marquee Magazine and done some work for Jambase.com, SPIN Magazine, and various other outlets. I started Listen Up Denver! as a way to share the music information that is constantly spilling out of my head with people who care. Please enjoy!