Nickel Creek at the Tivoli: October 14, 2007

Just eight years ago, I probably would have admitted to just about anyone that my favorite recording artist was Britney Spears. I was a sophomore in high school, and I’m still of the opinion that high school sophomores should be afforded such ridiculous musical tastes. I thought she had a good voice and her songs were catchy.

Since then, my musical tastes have understandably evolved. I made friends who liked “good” music, where “good” means “displaying talented musicianship on a musical instrument.” I also came to the realization that looks alone do not make someone talented at music. The sound you hear is apparently quite important. Believe it or not, that was a new concept for me not very long ago.

Still, despite all this supposed maturity that I’ve developed, I still fail to appreciate most “good” music out there. For one thing, I’m busy, and I have a lot of other interests. I also don’t spend most of my free time sitting in front of the computer at home, listening to music, like I did in college. Throw in the fact that I still don’t sing in tune most of the time, and you can probably feel free to dismiss my musical tastes. That won’t stop me from giving my opinions, though.
I moved along to rock music as my taste for sugary popular tunes waned. My favorite bands between my senior year of high school and my first 2-3 years of college were probably Sister Hazel, Fuel, Collective Soul (yes, still them), Evanescence, Linkin Park, and even Hoobastank. I still like mostly rock, though not necessarily all of those groups.

I mention all of these things to explain that the deck was stacked against one of my current favorite groups: Nickel Creek. Their style is probably best categorized as “newgrass” or “progressive acoustic,” although some would probably classify them as simply “country.” Most of their radio airplay probably comes on country radio (I wouldn’t really know), so I guess that’s fair. Were it not for a music-loving friend of mine and an opportunity to see them live while I was at Harding, I probably wouldn’t have given them a chance.

Luckily for me, I gave them that chance, and I’m still reaping the benefits. Nickel Creek put on an amazing live show one night during my sophomore year at Harding, and I started listening to my buddy’s CDs. To this day, they only have three full-length traditional albums, but they’re three absolute gems.

Nickel Creek, viewed from my current musical tastes, epitomize several things I like about music. All three members (Chris Thile on mandolin, Sean Watkins on acoustic guitar, Sara Watkins on fiddle) are exceptionally talented at their instruments. This fact alone is basically the reason Nickel Creek will cease to exist (for now) after their current tour, as each member has the potential to succeed as a solo artist. Second, all three members can sing. They have good range, unique voices, and they harmonize well. Third, they’re remarkably creative, both instrumentally and lyrically. Fourth, their lyrical content (as well as their instrumental content) has remarkable depth. Fifth, they’re fun to watch, from Thile’s almost comical gestures and appearance to Sara Watkins’ incessant foot-stomping.

At this point, it should be quite clear that I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate what Nickel Creek offers. They are arguably my favorite musical group in existence at this point, which is remarkable for them, given where my musical tastes stood just four years ago. Needless to say, I was quite excited when they scheduled a stop on their “Farewell For Now” tour in Chattanooga at the Tivoli theater for this past Sunday night.

Knowing most of their songs this time around, I felt like I could really appreciate a Nickel Creek show. Since they were bringing along the accomplished Bela Fleck, I knew I was in for a treat. However, with Fleck in tow, they played fewer of their staple songs (“Green and Gray” and “I Should’ve Known Better” were among the glaring omissions, to me, and they also left out “Speak,” “Beauty and the Mess,” and “Spit on a Stranger”). I wasn’t disappointed, per se, since it was a 3+ hour show, but I guess when you like a group too much, you’re bound to be disappointed when they don’t play one or two of your favorites.

The band was on target all evening, displaying their exceptional instrumental talent, harmonizing, and having fun all at the same time. The highlights for me were “The Fox” (much better live than on the recording), “Reasons Why” (with Fleck), and an extended version of “The Lighthouse’s Tale” (the closer, and possibly my favorite Nickel Creek song). It was a phenomenally entertaining show, and I came to the realization toward the end that I may never see a more accomplished group perform live.

If you aren’t familiar with Nickel Creek, give them a chance. If you’re fortunate enough, go see them in one of their final shows. I hear they’ll be releasing a live DVD based on their final two shows at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, so I encourage you to grab that as well.

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