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Timothy Finn blogs about the Kansas City music scene

Nickel Creek reunion rewards a big crowd at the Uptown

08/20/2014 6:51 AM

08/20/2014 11:00 AM

Nickel Creek’s imposing outing Tuesday at the Uptown Theater revealed that the music industry needs Nickel Creek far more than Nickel Creek needs the music industry.

A bluegrass trio with a penchant for pop, Nickel Creek recently resumed performing after an extended hiatus. An audience of about 2,000 heard the sorely missed band revive old songs and play new material from “A Dotted Line,” its first album in nine years.

“The reason we took seven and a half years off is that we ran out of instrumental titles,” mandolinist and vocalist Chris Thile joked.

Since the band from California stopped performing in 2007, Thile was awarded a genius grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Like Thile, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins have pursued several rewarding projects during their time away from Nickel Creek.

Yet Tuesday’s magnificent concert indicated that the three musicians bring out the best in one another. Very few of the ensembles that have flourished during the recent resurgence in acoustic-oriented music possess even half of the talent or allure of the reformed Nickel Creek. The band seems impervious to trends and fully capable of building an even larger base of fans thirsty for its organic approach.

Joined by the distinguished bassist Mark Schatz, the revitalized trio repeatedly veered between hay bale hootenannies and elegant concert hall serenades during a performance that was ten minutes shy of two hours.

When they weren’t playing unfortunately-titled instrumentals like “Smoothie Song” and “Ode to a Butterfly,” the three members alternated singing lead. Sara Watkins’ ferocious contribution to the sprightly new song “Destination” demonstrated her substantial artistic growth as a violinist and vocalist. The trio’s gorgeous harmonies have also become resonant. Sean Watkins’ powerful guitar work propelled each song while Thile repeatedly displayed the mandolin prowess that will be showcased at a September concert with virtuoso bassist Edgar Meyer at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The audience's rapturous responses were louder than the modest amplification used by the acoustic ensemble. Fans eagerly complied with the band's request for complete silence during an un-amplified version of the final song “Where Is Love Now.”

Opening act Sarah Jarosz was also deserving of the rapt attention she received. The young Austin-based singer-songwriter cited Nickel Creek's impact.

“I don't know if any of us would be here without growing up listening to their music,” Jarosz said.

Should the band manage to avert another lengthy break, Jarosz and most of the members of Tuesday's fresh-faced audience can look forward to decades of engaging new music from Nickel Creek.

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