By Sarah Katz
The Punch Brothers played a full house in Finney Chapel on Saturday night. The audience, composed of alumni and students alike, square-danced and cheered until the gracious band left the stage.
The Punch Brothers are made up of Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, Noam Pikelny, Paul Kowert, and Oberlin College’s very own Chris Eldrigde ‘04. Formed in 2006 in Brooklyn, NY, the band was originally called The Tension Mountain Boys. But after some soul searching they decided on The Punch Brothers, inspired by a line in “A Literary Nightmare,” one of Mark Twain’s short stories.
The band consists entirely of string instruments, but these are not your Average Joes plucking guitars. Their technical ability is astounding. They can play for minutes on end, simply improvising and feeding off of each other’s skill. In fact, their skill is so impressive that during Eldrigde’s most impressive mandolin solo, a bewildered audience member gasped a little too loudly, “This doesn’t make any sense!”
That awestruck audience member couldn’t have been more correct. The Punch Brothers are not only incredibly talented, but they have managed to do something that is often believed to be impossible: make country music cool. They combine indie rock, bluegrass, and country into one sweet-sounding, catchy melody and blend whimsical lyrics with intertwining solos.
Another admirable feature about this band is that they sound the same recorded as they do in concert. The gritty, real sound that you get in concert is exactly what you get on their CD; which is something that cannot be said for many bands.
On stage the five are playful, obviously comfortable with each other’s styles and technical abilities. Although the group sometimes lets themselves get carried away with improvisation, making the audience slowly lose their energy, the Punch Brothers never had a problem pulling them back in. They clearly know how to work and read the room.
If you’re looking for a new band to settle in next to your Frightened Rabbit, Band of Horses, or Mumford and Sons albums, The Punch Brothers are your guys. Once their lulling chords and fast string picks are established in your regular playlist, you’ll never know how you lived without them.