Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
f the night was a case of letting out pent up energy due to a long, long wait for both bands - Nickel Creek and The Secret Sisters - then the wait was most successful.
For Nickel Creek, the trio just released the very fine "A Dotted Line" last month, the band's first disc since 2007's "Why Should the Fire Die?" Chris Thile and brother-sister combination Sara and Sean Watkins apparently did not think the fire Nickel Creek lit should flame out either. This was also a night for sister duo The Secret Sisters to tour behind only their second disc and first in 3 ½ years (!), "Put Your Needle Down."
Nickel Creek did not take any time in going for something new, starting with "Rest of My Life," the first song on "A Dotted Line." Thile handled vocals on the slower number, while also infusing the song with a lot of mandolin.
Sara Watkins was a powerful vocalist in her own right on such songs as the fast-paced "Destination" and particularly "Hayloft" from the new set. She sings with power and urgency, giving the songs a real bounce. Watkins plays fiddle about the same way. For all three Nickel Creekers, the playing tended to be exact, clear and sharp without substituting speed and run after run to heighten the quality.
Her brother is lower key. He's a very good singer ("21st of May" from "A Dotted Line") with a sense of humor and plays acoustic guitar well, but he does not have the charismatic stage presence of his mates.
While Thile can sometimes take a bit too much command of the stage, at least in his other musical configurations, that was far from the case on this evening. Thile almost seemed subdued compared to other musical settings, but chances were that he was he was letting the Watkins family have their say.
The very sharp witted Thile got in the best lines in of the night when talking about how Nickel Creek instrumentals came to be named. Rattling off the names of previous instrumentals and a big knock on "Smoothie Song" as a title, Thile was most proud of the brand new "Elephant in the Corn."
"We nailed it," chimed in Watkins.
She might as well have been talking about the music. Yes, it is a wonderful title especially when you think about the reality of the title and how the music made the title seem plausible. The song was one of the highlights of the nearly 110-minute show with its drive and energy while going down a few different paths.
The playing from all three band member was superb with many of the songs coming off even better live than their recorded versions. Upright bassist Mark Schatz, who is from the Boston area, provided backbone to the music. He also had a chance to shine in clogging during the encore of "Cuckoo's Nest."
Perhaps the only complaint that could be lodged against Nickel Creek is that they should have played even more of "A Dotted Line." The six songs played from the release came across so well that hearing more (the disc has 10) was warranted. But it's mighty hard to argue with the results of an exciting, energizing and musically invigorating set.
Give Nickel Creek credit, though, for having enough confidence in the album to open and close the show with songs from the disc, ending with the lovely closer of Sara Watkins singing the sad "Where is Love Now."
Of course, Watkins needn't have wondered too much where the love was coming from. She told the crowd several times how excellent they were. And in this case in particular, she may have been telling the truth as the sold-out crowd was most attentive throughout.
That also shouldn't be surprising given the chance to soak in the palpable excitement generated on Nickel Creek's most triumphant return.
The Secret Sisters are a bit of a different entity this time around. When the Muscle Shoals, Ala. natives were first heard from in 2011, most of the songs were very much in lock step with the Everly Brothers - gorgeous country harmonies.
While Lydia and Laura Rogers offered a slew of covers on their debut, the just released "Put Your Needle Down" is a much denser, atmospheric affair. The harmonies remain on the T Bone Burnett production, but the music is far darker both sonically and lyrically with a lot of throw back sounds to the '60s.
There was a lot of beating down on men in such songs as "Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye" and the retro sounding "Black and Blue." But the sisters sure made it sound good, even worthwhile.
Laura did most of the talking, although after this show, Lydia may have a change of heart as she was the butt of a number of jokes from her big sister. All in the family because it did come across in jest.
In fact, the bit of a "gee-whiz, we're glad to be here and play for you" mentality worked just fine. The sisters seemed genuine and having a lot of fun.
More importantly, though, was their music. In addition to the gorgeous sisterly harmonies were the spare instrumentation of Tulsa residents Jessie Aycock on guitar and Patrick Ryan on a very spare drum set. Aycock sometimes gave twangy and steely fills, while Ryan knew a thing or two about pacing. They were an excellent addition to fill out the sound.
The Secret Sisters had the magic time and again with a bunch of good songs and singing.
Simply put, most fortunately, the waits for both The Secret Sisters and Nickel Creek are now over. This was one stellar night of music.