It seems too easy to compare Punch Brothers to Mumford and Sons. It’s also incorrect. They both have a banjo player, guitar, and stand-up bass. They both dress in the same clothing you would picture characters from “The Grapes of Wrath” to be rocking. But, that’s where it ends.
When entering the Michigan Theater, the most noticeable element of their stage setup is what’s NOT there. No sophisticated lights, no stacks of amplifiers, no banners to remind the audience who they are seeing. It’s a bare stage. Some black curtains, microphones, and them with their instruments. Punch Brothers are performing naked; there is nowhere to hide, and it works perfectly.
They kicked off the show with a couple of bluegrass, twangy numbers that got the crowd’s attention. Punch Brothers then seamlessly flowed right into an instrumental number that saw each performer step to the plate for a 20-30 second solo, showcasing the enormous talent they possess individually, all while holding together as a collective unit. Each solo was met with an eruption from the audience to show their appreciation for the talent we were seeing. It was similar how you might see a gymnastics competition. There was applause for the individual act, while the performer continues with their routine. Except, five different people were performing this routine.
Punch Brothers have just recently released their fifth album, The Phosphorescent Blues. They have been together for almost a decade now, and the cohesion of the group is obvious. They play off each other like a great jazz band would. Watching each other for changes, trying to keep up (Back to the Future reference anyone?). Sometimes anticipating the next move with such accuracy, you start to wonder if they could do this performance with their eyes closed. They probably could, but they would miss all the admiration from a crowd utterly enthralled seeing masters perform their craft.
On top of being immensely talented musicians, Punch Brothers had a stage presence that makes their performance enjoyable for anyone. Lead singer and Jude Law look alike, Chris Thile, did much more than just play the mandolin (He was Dr. John Watson in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies… no, wait.). Genuinely funny exchanges with his band mates as well as the crowd gave Thile the aura of a front man that knows how to entertain. At one point, he and banjo player, Noam Pikelny, discussed how their nonsensical exchange about where the placement of vital organs are in the body was “The highlight of the tour” Thile adding, “This has been a great tour, but that was obviously the apex.”
Punch Brothers performed completely naked (figuratively of course) and sounded flawless. There was nowhere to hide and that’s the way they like it. Because when you’re that good, you may as well flaunt it.