On Sunday night I headed across the river to Boston for a show at the Berklee Performance Center – Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau. I’m a member of World Music/CRASHArts, which presented the concert, and I’d picked up a ticket when they put the current season on sale without knowing much about it. I ended up having an unexpectedly busy couple of weeks beforehand and didn’t manage to do any sort of research before the show – I pretty much walked in having no idea what to expect. (This can be a great way to see a concert, though!)
I’d seen Thile a few times before, with the Punch Brothers and with Michael Daves; but I’d never managed to see Brad Mehldau. (I had a ticket to see him at Montreal Jazz Fest once, but the band I saw earlier in the evening was so powerful that I had to go back to my hotel and lie down instead. A lost opportunity, but sometimes even the hardiest concertgoer has a hard time seeing 17+ hours of live music in three cities in one week.) All I really knew was that I should be seeing an interesting mix of a jazz pianist and a genre-defying (but originally bluegrass) mandolin player. Jazz and bluegrass might seem like an odd combination to some people, but they are actually a perfect match; like jazz, bluegrass has a heavy focus on improvisation. Both musicians have huge reputations, so I knew they would be able to pull off whatever they put their minds to.
The majority of songs they played were covers, from a wide range of songwriters (e.g. Fiona Apple, Radiohead, and Bob Dylan). They also played a few originals: one untitled piece by Brad Mehldau and a couple of Thile’s (Chopped Down Your Shade Tree and the Punch Brothers’ Me and Us). It’s hard for me to pick out highlights since the show was of such consistently high quality, but I think if I had to pick favorites I’d go with Me and Us, Fiona Apple’s On the Bound, and the Dylan cover, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. I got that one on film:
(I was unable to get Chris Thile into the video without being an obnoxious asshat and annoying the people behind me with the camera, so all you get is Brad Mehldau. Rule one of being a concert blogger: don’t annoy the people around you, no matter how much you want to get that great shot.)
The music overall was a novel mix of bluegrass, jazz, and more rock- and pop-influenced songwriting. It wasn’t nearly as challenging as the last few concerts I’ve seen, but sometimes it’s very pleasant to just sit back and enjoy without thinking too hard about things. The next concert on the calendar is probably going to be quite difficult, so it’s probably good to give my ears a little respite 😉
There are only a couple more dates on the Thile/Mehldau tour – April 19 in Chicago and April 20 in Austin – but if they ever tour again I’d definitely recommend seeing them. I’m kind of hoping they decide to record an album together, too…