Punch Brothers – EFG London Jazz Festival — Live Review *****

Three standing ovations. Two hours of magic. One microphone.

The Punch Brothers, darlings of the bluegrass cognoscenti, brought their brand of highly distinctive avant-garde bluegrass to London’s Barbican centre.

The Punch Brothers are mandolinist and lead vocalist Chris Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Paul Kowert, banjoist Noam Pikelny and violinist Gabe Witcher. All combine to create gorgeous string and vocal harmonies. Inevitably the spotlight falls on the group’s founder and leader Chris Thile, mandolin virtuoso and expressive vocalist.

The Punch Brothers are masters of their craft. Whether delicate mandolin playing, complex key and rhythm changes, foot-stomping bluegrass or storytelling, this group is the Steely Dan of the bluegrass world, with technical perfection and sophistication.

With a tumultuous reception before playing a note, people in the audience were soon whooping and hollering. In one gentleman’s case a little too exuberantly, he was later to be rebuked subtly yet amicably by a Thile gesture mid-song. The Barbican’s acoustics framed the subtle and often unamplified sounds of the group. You could hear the lightest of touches on a mandolin string.

The Punch Brothers gave it all. From the powerful My Oh My, to the foot stomping New York City, the storming Magnet, the beautiful Julep and Josh Ritter cover Another New World, the symphony of All Ashore and the utterly brilliant unamplified encore of Familiarity.


This spellbinding show could only be improved by one thing. Repetition. Repetition in other cities in the UK. Guys, please can you play more UK dates next trip. With London being the only UK date on the tour many fans of your music are missing out.

Words and Live Photos by Chaz Brooks

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