'ACL' Live Shots
By Jerry Renshaw, Fri., Oct. 4, 2002
Nickel CreekZilker Park, Saturday, Sept. 29, 7pm
It'd be easy to ascribe the success of Nickel Creek to the O Brother Where Art Thou? phenomenon, but it'd also be extremely lazy and misplaced. The band's musical pedigree is informed more by pop, alternative rock, and jazz more than by Bill Monroe, which soon became clear in their set. They started things off with the blinding instrumental "Smoothie Song," showing off a set of musical chops between all four members that left the audience floored. In the course of their set, they covered the Beatles' "Taxman" and Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger," while borrowing bits and pieces of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and even a bit of The Simpsons' theme. Mandolinist Chris Thile calls to mind David Grisman more than Ricky Skaggs in his dazzling facility on the instrument, but taken as a whole, the band's instrumental dogfights never became tiresome or noodly. Instead, they kept things interesting with a playful casualness that makes their complex interplay seem fairly effortless. Traditional bluegrass purists have never been too keen on experimentation or boundary-pushing, but the caliber of musicianship in this band can't be argued with. It'd be nice to hear their take on a Stonemans, Country Gentlemen, or Bill Monroe song, but the freshness and originality of what they do hardly makes one miss the old high-lonesome stuff. Appalachian folk music never sounded like this.