Wednesday, April 14, 2004

My Nickel Creek Concert Adventure

Tuesday night, the 13th, my dad and I went to see Nickel Creek play at Eugene's historic McDonald Theatre. I had a great time, and it was definitely one of the top concerts I've ever seen.

We got to the place at about 6:30 and had to wait in line near the bus station, which is by the back of the building. The doors opened at 7 and we went up to the balcony seating. Good thing I had my ID on me, because there was a bar in there and as such one had to be over the age of 21 to enter the balcony seating. I'm almost 24, so I'm good to go. After we sat down, I went back down to get a CD. I didn't have their latest album, and now I do!

Their opening act was a woman named Mindy Smith. She started playing around 8, and played a 40 minute set. Among the songs she sang was a Dolly Parton song that she performs on the Dolly Parton tribute album, and a song dedicated to her sister's friend who died of brain cancer on Easter. She did a great job on all her songs, and I don't really know who to compare her to. Sometimes I'd hear traces of Sheryl Crow, but that's all I can think of. She's a guitar player/singer-songwriter, that type of musician. And she has a big, husky, bluesy, folky voice.

Nickel Creek came on at 9, and opened with an instrumental song (must be a new one cause it's not on either of their CD's) that started slowly, and eventually kicked up to a rollicking jam. Other highlights from the show included:

- "In The House of Tom Bombadil," one of their instrumentals. It featured Chris Thile's amazing mandolin abilities, and lots of good fiddling by Sarah Watkins including a new section that, I swear, contained tunes that I've heard Natalie MacMaster play on one of her albums. It was a nice exhibition of energetic fiddle playing, and gave the tune a bit of a Celtic swing to it.

- "Cuckoo's Nest" Another instrumental, which they played at a furious pace. In the middle of the tune, their bass player came out and did some stepdancing to the music!! That was a pleasant, unexpected treat and it got the crowd pumped.

- "Ode to a Butterfly" Yes, another instrumental. Maybe it's just my opinion, but their instrumentals seem to be their biggest strength. This time, Chris went into Nirvana's "Lithium" in the middle of the song. Now THAT got the crowd going wild!! It was a nice touch for a Pacific Northwest audience, especially not long after the ten year anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. These are not your grandfather's bluegrass musicians!

- "Sweet Afton" is one of my favorite NC songs. It's just gorgeous, and their rendition of it tonight was no less beautiful. I was very happy that they chose to play it during the concert.

- The Encore. Yeah, we demanded they come back out, and come back out they did. To play at LEAST a half hour encore! It started with a slower, ballad-type song, progressed into Beck's "Where It's At," flowed into something else, and then turned into "The Fox" which they played at their bluegrassy energetic best. Then they gathered around an old-style microphone to do a jazzier number, and THEN performed a new instrumental they've written. After that, we finally left and I'm not sure but I think they might have done even more music after that. I DO have a good excuse for leaving - we were hot and thirsty and tired. By the time we did leave, I had certainly obtained my money's worth and more from the concert. I'm VERY glad we stayed for (most) of the encore because it was certainly special.

Other songs they played during the concert included hits such as "Reasons Why," a faster, jazzier version of "When You Come Back Down," "Smoothie Song," and some new songs they've been working on for a new album.

Musically, they were on top of their game. Chris was a madman on stage, working the crowd as well as his fellow bandmates, hopping around and generally playing the hell out of his mandolin and bouzouki. Sarah was hypnotic with her singing and her fiddle playing. She played with a lot more energy and spunk than she generally does on the recorded versions of the songs. Many times she got down bluegrass style, working the crowd with the sweet sounds of her strings. The vocals by all three of them were top-notch, especially Sarah's. She has such a tender voice, but yet at times she can really let loose and put some soul into it. Overall, Nickel Creek put on a very solid, entertaining show (2 hours straight!) with lots of energy and youthful humor and vigor. It is definitely on my list of the top concerts I've ever been to. Not that I've been to many, but of the ones I have been to, this one is a highlight.

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