To paraphrase Laura Rogers, lead vocalist for The Secret Sisters: “When Nickel Creek come on, you are going to smile, and stay smiling the whole time they are on stage.” It’s been nearly seven years since the great Southern California trio have last toured as a unit. Despite all three members making many trips to the Bay Area throughout the hiatus, it’s remained a very lonesome and sad seven years. During this period, we had to weather a folk revival with a slew of lesser bands become bigger than Nickel Creek ever were. Simply put, the world needs Nickel Creek.
The Secret Sisters opened the show. They are a country music duo from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a city with a pretty deep reputation for music, and in their 30 minute set they definitely did their hometown justice. They played a set of songs culled from their two T Bone Burnett-produced records, complete with Burnett’s signature reverb-drenched guitar and a drum kit that included a bass drum made from luggage. The two sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, harmonized gorgeously, and picked on each other like sisters, too. Well, Laura picked on Lydia. She made a few cracks about her wearing clothes that aren’t dry, and I swear Lydia looked like she was going to stab Laura with a shaker. They sufficiently warmed up the crowd with the right balance of great music and fantastic banter.
When the lights fell onstage to signal the arrival of Nickel Creek, the cheers from the crowd were the absolute loudest cheers that I’ve ever heard from any audience. This was a room full of some of the most passionate fans that I’ve ever been around; it was almost oppressively loud on the floor. And then, when Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins, Chris Thile, and long term Nickel Creek bassist Mark Schatz took their places onstage, the audience was stone silent, steely with anticipation. They kicked off the set with the slow burning “Rest Of My Life,” off the recently released comeback record, A Dotted Line. It was a beautiful way to get warmed up. Then they went full throttle into the ferocious bluegrass instrumental “Scotch & Chocolate.” This was a delirious, high energy number that managed to get the crowd jumping, marking the first time in 20 years of going to shows where I’ve experienced a crowd pogoing without a drummer.
It was a thrilling beginning to the show. It felt like the last seven years never happened, and they just picked up right where they last left off. The harmonies are tight, the energy is high, and the two hour set was pure, solid entertainment. They are all virtuosos at their craft. They are also all mighty impressive comedians. Early in the set, Sean Watkins introduced the new song “21st Of May” as a song inspired by the lunacy of the predicted Judgement Day in 2011. Thile went on a ridiculous tangent about the quality of the titles of their instrumental pieces that may have gone on too long if it were presented by somebody who didn’t have such a gift for banter. Sara Watkins didn’t spend as much time talking, but her expressive face and body language during her brother’s brilliant kiss off anthem “Somebody More Like You” made for a wonderful visualization of such a mean spirited song.
Schatz, the bassist, came along to the group in 2007, and I couldn’t imagine them performing without him. He made for such a pivotal member of the band, keeping the beat on bass, while also proving his percussion talents as a tap dancer and a hambonist. Sorry, a “ham-boner,” as Thile so lovingly coined the act of hamboning.
The show was a glorious homecoming for one of the greatest bands of the first decade of the current millennium. The tour is being billed as a 25th anniversary tour, reminding everyone that they started in 1989, when Thile & Sara were both 8. (!) It was a glorious evening of some of the best acoustic music being made today. For the sake of all humanity, they better not leave us for such a long time again. I’m worried that my brain cease to produce serotonin entirely if I have to wait this long again.
Rest of My Life
Scotch & Chocolate
Jealous of the Moon
21st of May
When In Rome
Tomorrow Is a Long Time
Ode to a Butterfly
You Don’t Know What’s Going On
Somebody More Like You
The Lighthouse’s Tale
Elephant in the Corn
When You Come Back Down
First and Last Waltz
Where Is Love Now
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2014 Jonathan Pirro