Punch Brothers @ QPAC
It’s a brisk but pleasant Tuesday evening here in Brisbane. I rally-car my way into Southbank, already running late. I finally find the car park I pre-booked and of course, it’s not “the perfect location if you’re headed to QPAC or GOMA”. Thanks for nothing, Secure-a-Spot. I realise I am almost 20 minutes late. My friend is waiting in an empty lobby with my vodka in hand; I am a terrible person. I piss-bolt down Melbourne St, narrowly avoiding the sliding doors as they close on other pedestrians whilst trying to cross the busway. Dressed in all black, I feel like Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels chasing the creepy thin man. That imaginary scenario quickly flunks when I realise I haven’t run in months. The stitch in my right side is heinous. I finally arrive at QPAC and apologise profusely for my tardiness as we make our way into the theatre. Knowing my sporadic luck, we’re placed in the middle of a seated row. Disrupting happily seated patrons and stepping on a few toes, we finally make it to our seats and I’m able to take a breather.
The Punch Brothers are already well warmed up as they glide effortlessly into their next song. The quirky quintet huddle intimately around a condenser microphone with violin, acoustic guitar, double bass, mandolin and banjo in hand. The audience is dead silent and for good reason; with audio gear like that, you could have heard a pin drop. I am simply mesmerised from the get-go. Dynamically, it’s quite literally music to my ears. The sound technician isn’t needing to mess around with their individual levels. These well groomed-gentleman have made these instruments an extension of themselves; sometimes soft and subdued, sometimes sprightly and full of spirit. It is the honesty within such a performance that releases that euphoric rush of bliss onto unknown parts of my brain. As one musician begins, he claims the microphone for his own. But the quintet move entirely as one tonight, always in unison to mirror their sound. There is a progressiveness to their music and as a crescendo occurs, the energy perfectly matches the music. The Punch Brothers have a new level of stage presence I haven’t witnessed in a long time. Lead singer and mandolin player, Chris Thile, reminds me of a dancing chicken as he plucks the strings and jerks about on stage, facial expressions and all. We also receive a brief comedic bout of banter from Banjo player, Noam Pikelny, before they launch into a beautiful rendition of Passepied by Claude Debussy. Don’t worry guys, you definitely ‘plucked it solid’. The most solemn of moments are when the quintet finish their songs in acapella; a bluegrass version of a barbershop quartet. We as an audience praise them with brief, but warm applause.
I hear a familiar double bass riff begin and I am immediately aware that my favourite track Julep is emerging from behind the big red velvet curtain. I drift into a state of aesthetic arrest, as one of my favourite modern philosophers, Jason Silva calls it. I softly mutter all the words to myself and find I’m leaning forward in my seat, with my head tilted back and my eyes closed. I hear the occasional sigh from an audience member close. Yeah girl, I feel you. This is happiness.
Punch Brothers are an experience that must be witnessed live. Having completely forgotten the absolute havoc I caused upon arrival, I leave QPAC feeling warm and fuzzy. Any negativity that previously brewed has been eradicated into thin air and there’s no doubt in my mind why the quintet are Grammy award winning. I leave feeling honoured to have attended their first show in Brisbane.