Posted by: Nathan | May 21, 2006

WOW–Nickel Creek Live

I knew that seeing Nickel Creek live was going to be a serious display of instrumentation, but oh my, they put on an incredible and highly enjoyable performance that exceeded all my expectations. The night was a display of instrumental fireworks, melody, and improvisation with plenty of extras and surprises packed in.

They opened the set with the title track from their latest album (and the name of their tour) “Why Should the Fire Die?“, which they sang in beautiful harmony crowded around one of those omni-directional microphones. Then the trio featuring siblings Sara and Sean Watkins (violin and guitar respectively) and Chris Thile (mandolin) moved to separate mics and played “Scotch and Chocolate,” which featured that patented slow build and then burst into a musical romp, fingers flying over strings and solos following on each other.

The third song played was my personal favorite, so I was extra pumped when Sean played the familiar, heavenly riff that begins “This Side”–including another explosive mandolin solo from Mr. Thile. “Best of Luck” came next, and then the mind-blowingly fast mandolin riff that kicks off “Ode to a Butterfly” (J’s and my honeymoon song*) rang out and the group’s musical talent was on full display as solo upon solo featuring incredibly fast and intricate fingerwork gave way to sweet melodies. That was only the first five songs. I don’t remember how the rest of the songs played themselves out (I’ll list the setlist out of order later), but rest assured the rest of the songs were just as sweet to hear.

A wildcard at any concert is what the band will say to the audience and whether or not one will like the artists as much as their art; this was not a problem with Nickel Creek. The group teased each other, complimented the audience, and had a great time. Sara had actually taken the path around Bethel and said we had a beautiful campus but that she lost the trail to which someone in the second row replied, “I’ll show you!” Sara’s brother promptly encouraged her to take him up on the offer. Another banter-related highlight was when Chris asked the audience how we were doing (we cheered of course), and then he said, “That’s basically band-speak for ‘Do you love me?’ Most bands don’t care about how their audience is doing.” Sara added, “But we weren’t doing that.” Chris: “I was.”

Chris later mentioned that since this was a Christian college, perhaps we’d understand a little morality story (“A parable if you will,”–Sara), and then said, “Well, it’s summer now. And summer always means acoustic music. And no acoustic concert would complete without a cover of Britney Spears. As you may know, my Cubs have lost 15 of 18…”, and he went on to say that the following song was a metaphor for any kind of addiction, especially bad sports-club related ones. Then, Nickel Creek played “Toxic” (wanna hear it?). Even though it was in jest and we laughed more than we listened, it sounded much better than Ms. Spears’ version.

Another suprise came when NC played a blistering “House of Tom Bombadil” that was exciting enough, but then they slowed the song down and Sara sang a cover of “Short People Got No Reason to Live,” which was especially humorous given the minute stature of both Watkinses.

The band finished the main set with a ripping version of “The Fox” that brought the audience to their feet clapping and singing along. The uproarious applause that followed forced the encores after the traditional feigned exit. Chris came out first and said, “I’m going to play some Bach for you guys, ” and then he did. He proceeded to play one of J.S. Bach‘s fugues in G minor and did it without any sheet music and with quite a bit of instrumental expression. Sara followed with a cover song about a lost pony that was far more poignant than my summary will make it sound; third, Sean played a new song: “Normally I would play a song of my new record, but they just sold out at the last show.” Lastly, the bassist played a song of his solo album. Then Nickel Creek went back into ensemble mode for the penultimate number that featured tap dancing from the bassist (and good dancing too; Chris joined in for a litte bit) and finished with “When You Come Back Down.”

The songs as best as J and I can remember them:
“Why Should the Fire Die?”
“Scotch and Chocolate” fantastic version
“This Side”
“Best of Luck”
“Ode to a Butterfly” blisteringly fast and beautiful
(now out of any order)
“When in Rome” liked it much better live; big crowd pleaser
“Somebody More Like You”
“Jealous of the Moon”
“Anthony” another crowd pleaser featuring Sara on ukelele
“Helena” great one
“Smoothie Song” this one went on forever–incredible instrumentation
“House of Tom Bombadil / Short People Got No Reason to Live” 😀
“Reasons Why” another really good one–terrific harmony
“The Fox” with everyone clapping–huge hit
“When You Come Back Down”

There were more songs played; either I don’t know their titles, don’t remember them being played, or hadn’t heard them before. It was an incredibly fun concert that lasted for about 2 and a half hours. Nickel Creek to a person is likeable and amazingly gifted. Their stage banter kept us laughing, and the unimaginable instrumentation kept us gawking and clapping. There were lots of surprises and many songs I expected to hear and was very glad to. The crowd was a little laid back at first but then enjoyed the music whole-heartedly; we were a good crowd except for the flash photography which had security threatening to take a camera from the person behind us. The only group I’ve enjoyed more in concert was Dave Matthews Band; not bad for $10 a ticket. Hopefully, we’ll see them again. I’ll end here because I’ve run out of superlatives.

*J and I went to Glacier National Park for our honeymoon and brought only one CD: NC’s self-titled album. Now whenever we hear songs off that disc (especially “Ode to a Butterfly”) we flash to towering mountains, sparkling rivers, and the highways east of Glacier.


  1. Sounds like a great evening. Kudos to Bethel for bringing in Nickel Creek.

  2. Yea, that was a Fantastic concert! Way better live than I was expecting!!

  3. Danica’s got some pics from the actual concert. check ’em out: Hopefully, Danica, you weren’t one of those eeeeevil flash users, but knowing your camera skills, I doubt it.

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