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Volume 35
Issue 20
 
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Nickel Creek's Farewell (for now) show leaves audience clamoring for reunion
Nickel Creek's Farewell (for now) show leaves audience clamoring for reunion
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

Nickel Creek with Jon Brion
May 10 @ McCaw Hall


Cue the melancholy music: this is Nickel Creek's "Farewell (For Now) Tour." It seems like only yesterday the twenty-somethings were setting the bluegrass world alight with their Grammy-winning album, This Side. Okay, maybe it was only yesterday. But the trio - siblings Sean and Sara Watkins on guitar and violin, respectively, and mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile - have been performing together since 1989, when Chris and Sara were barely eight years old. Since they've been together for two-thirds of their lives, I guess it's reasonable that they spend some time apart. As they said in a Billboard Magazine interview last August, "(L)ately it hasn't been quite as natural and we're running the risk of actually having to break up. We would rather leave it for a while, while it's still intact and healthy." But if you missed last Thursday's show, be assured that the band is "only" on indefinite hiatus, having recently added the words "for now" in the tour's ominous title.

Songwriter Jon Brion, opened the evening with his rollicking antics. Brion, who produced Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine, as well as Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright and David Byrne, was on fire. His lyrics were, in turn, clever and poignant, the tunes reminiscent of the Beatles, and his voice even sounded a bit like George Harrison (including, inextricably, the English accent). He pounded the piano, sporting harmonica headgear, for his opening song "Ruin My Day." He continued with a cover of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset," which he acknowledged as his favorite song of all time. Sean and Sara joined him for a few songs, including another Kinks' cover ("I Go To Sleep") and a bluegrass version of Fats Waller's "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." He asked for requests from the audience, and when beset with the inevitable drunken "Free Bird," he warned: "Careful. I did that the other night." Thile joined him onstage for some instrumental dueling; the audience was torn between being tickled by their antics and being stunned by their musicianship. Then Brion made good on his threat, treating the crowd to a bluegrass rendition of the Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

Nickel Creek took to the stage a little after 9:30 and lit right into the instrumental "Big Sam Thompson," so named for Thile's taciturn great uncle. They were intent on satisfying the audience - who, after all, might not get another chance to see them together for quite a while - with all of their singles. "Thompson" seamlessly segued into "The Fox," and band continued with "Best of Luck," the "Smoothie Song," "This Side" and "House Carpenter." Chris and Sara sparred with each other as if they were the siblings on stage, Chris asking, "What's a Seattle? There's a sea otter, but what's a sea-attle?" Eventually Sara led the conversation back to the next seafaring tune, "The Lighthouse's Tale."

Nickel Creek's tightly woven instrumentals and three-part harmonies are contagious, and their forays from the bluegrass arena have a slightly mournful indie-rock feel; this amalgam has led to much acclaim from fans of both genres. The acoustics in McCaw Hall, the site of the Seattle Opera, was perfect for the performance, and the band made the most of it on Thursday, playing almost every song they've ever recorded - "Jealous of the Moon," "Somebody More Like You," "Reasons Why" - and a few they haven't. Chris Thile introduced a tune mid-way through the set, an "indictment of those who would break up with us before we're ready." "If You're Gonna Leave Me (Then Set Me Up With One of Your Friends)" may be a "new" song for Nickel Creek, but Thile performed it solo on last year's Bela Fleck tour. Its inclusion in Thursday's performance left the audience to ponder when the group would get around to recording it. Jon Brion came back out for his own "Trouble," and the band played one cover (Radiohead's "You Do It To Yourself") before returning to their own impressive collection of songs. Sara picked up the ukulele for her cheery stalker anthem "Anthony," and a plucky instrumental featured bassist Mark Schatz on the banjo.

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