Tuesday, May 1, 2012

how to grow a band

I attended the premiere of How to Grow a Band--the lovely, unassuming doc on progressive bluegrass band Punch Brothers.  While the doc is about the band's formation and music, the main focus may be Chris Thile.  A musical prodigy and ex-member of Nickel Creek (the talented, longtime family bluegrass band that rose to prominence after the T-Bone Burnett-driven folk and Americana renaissance of the early and mid-2000s), Thile is the handsomely scruffy and sleepy-eyed lead singer, mandolinist of the Punch Brothers, portrayed in the film as extremely dedicated to his art.  Enigmatic, golden-voiced Thile comes off as its ringleader, unapologetic about the band's experimental direction on its debut (which consists of an opus of four lengthy string movements).

Directed by Mark Meatto, The movie mirrors the band's music style--freewheeling yet precise--as evident in its careful camerawork (the idea to film the back of the band from outside through the window after a concert at Lincoln Jazz Center was particularly inspired).  It seems focused less on any blow-ups and drama.  Instead, the members seem quite taciturn and inward and extremely hard-working in their musical craft. The quietness may alienate some viewers but for musicians and music fans, there are rewards.  The movie is worth watching for its intimate live performances and its unadorned look at the organic feel of music-making (it closes appropriately with Thile playing late at night with composer software). ***

-Jeffery Berg

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