Words by: Brad Jadwin
Nickel Creek :: 10.31.07 :: Renaissance Theatre :: Mansfield, OH
It could have been the glowing jack-o-lanterns on the speaker stacks. Perhaps it was the creepy decorations in the lower lobby bar. However, my guess is that it was Chris Thile and company's stripping onstage at the Renaissance Theatre that really created a spectacular night. Nickel Creek has been known for their lighthearted stage banter for years, and Halloween certainly provided them with plenty of slightly off kilter subject matter that they took full advantage of, but whatever it was that aligned the nearly full moon with the nearly sold out crowd made for a remarkable evening for the band as they approach the end of their "Farewell (For Now) Tour."
| Nickel Creek|
A slightly off-the-beaten-track venue, the theatre went out of their way to set the mood with ushers howling at the moon, flickering chandelier lights and haunted house tableaus set up throughout the space. As I walked around I wondered why more bands didn't play there. I've lived less than an hour away from this gem most of my life and had never trekked the 50 miles north from Columbus before. In fact, even the band realized that they were in a pretty unique place saying, "The sheer audacity of us to perform a farewell show to a city we never even said hello to amazes [us]." A short conversation with the theatre director revealed that recent personnel changes have opened the doors for more live music. With inexpensive beer and wine, free parking, amazing sound and a simply beautiful house, I look forward to a return trip.
Nickel Creek smartly chose Bruce Molsky as their opener. Molsky is one of those rare things in the world – a world-class musician who constantly works AND is a genuinely nice guy. His 45-minute set featured guest appearances from two-thirds of Nickel Creek (in costume), which warmed the crowd up to a standing ovation. His simply beautiful duet with Sarah Watkins had the two dueling on fiddle, weaving intricate lines like the intertwining of a gold rope necklace. They had people literally dancing in the aisles.
After a short break, the band took the stage in costume. Sarah Watkins was in Dolly Parton regalia complete with heavy mascara that creeped out Chris Thile all evening. Thile was in suit and tie with a Chicago Cubs jersey on top. He explained later that it was his best impression of an "MIA Chicago Businessman." Longtime bassist Mark Schatz was decked out Kubrick style with a bowler hat and one-piece skeleton costume. Thile quipped, "As crappy as my costume is it's not nearly as crappy as Sean's, which is non existent." Sean Watkins explained, "Yes, I do feel better than everyone else, so I don't need a costume."
| S. Watkins & Thile - Nickel Creek|
By Jon Hancock
The group played a full two hours of hits, covers and instrumentals. If they are taking a break from the road because they've grown weary it certainly didn't show. They opened with "Scotch & Chocolate," which recently won a Grammy nomination for best country instrumental. It takes a lot of confidence to open a show without a hint of their signature vocals but it certainly set the right tone for the night. As the band progressed, Thile jokingly tried to tie each song to Halloween. "Smoothie Song" became "Spooky Song" and references to the "ghoulish key of F minor" were made. The band also covered the Jackson 5 hit "I Want You Back," referencing Sarah's Parton costume saying, "It's Nine-to-Jackson-5". The crowd loved it but stayed in their seats until the very end. Of course, Nickel Creek fans aren't prone to moshing but they did fill the aisles for the closing song, and costumed Creekies were obviously having a great time.
After an unusually long break before the encore, Sarah finally emerged from the blue lights of the backstage area. Still in her heavy mascara and huge, hot blond wig, she explained that the rest of the band was "held up." When the guys finally emerged they were, to the sheer delight of many, shirtless. A first for Nickel Creek, I'm sure, the crowd went berserk. Someone in the front row held up dollar bills, which Thile accepted, stuck in his belt and announced, "Thank you, sir!" Acknowledging that "this is in very bad taste but so is Britney Spears," they launched into their now famous cover of "Toxic," complete with Thile bumping and grinding, hip thrusting and popping. Then, Molsky joined them for a smoking version of "Lulu Girl" with all five musicians around a single microphone. The crowd was screaming for "Lighthouse" but I guess it would be a little strange for such a touching song to be performed shirtless.
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