Getting Punchy with the Punch Brothers

Modern Bluegrass for an Indie Rock Era

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If you’re hungry for Americana with a contemporary flair, you won’t do better than the Punch Brothers. Fronted by mandolin virtuoso and recent MacArthur “genius grant” winner Chris Thile, the Brooklyn-based band fuses bluegrass with indie rock, creating music that sounds simultaneously current and straight out of the Prohibition era. This weekend they’ll be in Los Angeles, playing a show at Cal State LA’s Luckman Fine Arts Complex on Saturday night and performing on Conan on Monday.

While the structure of the band hews closely to the classic bluegrass setup – banjo, guitar, upright bass, mandolin, and fiddle – none of the members are much interested in sticking to tradition. Their acoustic cover of Radiohead’s influential “Kid A” transforms a languished electronic-ambient tune into a warmer yet more bare-boned rendition. Life exists far beyond the creative borders of the bluegrass countryside.

Guitarist Chris Eldridge, in particular, is inspired by the Big Apple. “From the first time I visited New York, I was taken with the palpable electricity that exists in the air,” he says. “There are so many creative people – visual artists, musicians, chefs – who show you something you’ve never experienced before.”

Though he’s not one to mention it, Eldridge’s technical ability is impressive. His guitar playing is rich, graceful, and complicated, especially on songs like “This Girl” and “Patchwork Girlfriend,” where he melds the immediacy of pop with a knack for experimentation. On top of that, Eldridge is currently spending his scant free time while on tour composing a score for the upcoming indie drama Angel’s Perch. In another life, he could have been one hell of a juggler.

Currently on the road, Eldridge is bringing his talent down to our neck of the woods. But none of the members are strangers to Los Angeles, having spent a long stretch here recording their previous album Antifogmatic. Their third album, Who’s Feeling Young Now?, which was released this past February, reflects the band’s more accessible indie-rock ambitions and has garnered heaps of praise. Thanks in part to the abundant creative energy in L.A. – and the burritos from Loteria Grill – Eldridge and his fellow Punch Brothers are excited to return. “L.A. is like New York,” Eldridge says. “It’s similarly populated with creative and ambitious people, just less subways and more driving.”

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