Nickel Creek’s new gems and old favorites

We always love seeing old friends and so it is we welcomed back Nickel Creek to our stage for their third taping, which we also livestreamed on our ACLTV YouTube channel. The California combo last visited us in 2003 – recording their debut in 2001, while mandolin master Chris Thile performed with Punch Brothers in 2012 and fiddler Sara Watkins supported the Decemberists in 2011. But now the trio is back in toto, virtuoso instrumentation and tight harmonies intact, celebrating not only our 40th anniversary but also their own musical return after a nine-year absence with the reunion record A Dotted Line.

Defying the stereotype, the band opened with a ballad, “Rest of My Life,” featuring harmony arco lines from Sara and bassist Mark Schatz. The tempo picked up with “Scotch and Chocolate,” an instrumental that combined fluctuating bridges with Sara’s Celtic-flavored lines. The rest of the set alternated between pieces from the new record and well-known tunes from their popular repertoire. “Destination” and “When in Rome” were perfect examples of the band’s ability to create indie pop songs using bluegrass instrumentation. “Reasons Why” and “Where is Love Now” essayed the beauty of the band’s way with ballads. Fan-favorite instrumentals like “Smoothie Song,” “Ode to a Butterfly” and the new “Elephant in the Corn” raised the roof. The group’s wry sense of humor bubbled up throughout, especially in the twisted gospelgrass of “21st of May,” the stalker folk of “Anthony” and the aggressive bitterness of “You Don’t Know What’s Going On,” for which Thile teased the crowd to unleash their buried anger. The band ended with its popular adaptation of the children’s tune “The Fox,” which drove the audience wild.

A well-deserved encore brought redos of “Where is Love Now” and “You Don’t Know What’s Going On,” before the Creek flowed through the driving ballad “Helena” and into the traditional fiddle tune “Cuckoo’s Nest,” which featured not only expert musicianship (“They make it look soooooo easy,” noted stream viewer Take a Hike) but also Schatz tapdancing. It was an undeniably fun show – noted by viewer Mathew Cussen as “one of the best shows I’ve ever seen” – and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs in early 2015. And don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified of future livestreams of ACL tapings!