Friday, February 5, 2010

see i'm stuck in this city but i belong in a field

Maybe you had picked up by now that I am somewhat of a bluegrass fan. You know I appreciate a hot, fresh banjo roll, and fleet mandolin. Now it has its time and place for me, but when someone nails that genre, I pour myself another Jameson on the rocks and let my hair down. No one does this as well for me as Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek, and currently of the dynamite group, The Punch Brothers. When I saw them in Telluride this past summer they covered Radiohead until two in the morning. And I met Ed Helms. I peaked that night. You're catching me on the way down.

Before Punch Brothers called themselves...Punch Brothers, they were known as "Chris Thile and the How to Grow a Band." Under that name they released a 2006 album How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, a concept album relying heavily on covers to tell a story of love lost and debauchery discovered. It's scotch soaked, gritty, and unabashedly rooted in bluegrass content and sound.

What I love about this mandolin wunderkind and his band of lovable and light fingered geniuses is that they connect bluegrass unapologetically to whatever other genre they damn well feel like. In fact, they expose somewhat brazenly the fact that many songs can be wailed on with a mandolin and sound completely natural. Like the song I'm going to highlight tonight, off the aforementioned 2006 album.

Heart in a Cage by The Strokes is a song that when listened to seems birthed in and raised by rock and roll. Noisy guitar, clashing hi hat, and incendiary riffs hold tight to searing lyrics about banging around with your imprisoned heart, and the genuine anger that gets worn down into sadness from the fight.

And it still manages to not be a downer. Now who could top that? No one.

But the Punch Brothers don't top it. They don't try. It's almost like watching a bunch of professors show how musical power doesn't come from the electricity in the amps, but in the electricity and pulse of the artists and what's behind it all. Oddly enough, both versions sort of make me want to get up and go run up the side of a mountain with all the adrenaline this song pumps into my limbs.

Listen to both. My heart knocks around with the experience of both versions; knowing what it's like to want to be heard and challenged and allowed to feel all those pounding, wild eyed things.

(I really like the music video for the original.)

Well I don't feel better
When I'm fucking around
And I don't write better
When I'm stuck in the ground
So don't teach me a lesson
Cause I've already learned
Yeah the sun will be shining
And my children will burn

Oh the heart beats in its cage

I don't want what you want
I don't feel what you feel
See I'm stuck in a city
But I belong in a field

Yeah we got left, left, left, left, left, left, left

Now it's three in the morning and you're eating alone

Oh the heart beats in its cage

All our friends, they're laughing at us
All of those you loved you mistrust
Help me I'm just not quite myself
Look around there's no one else left
I went to the concert and I fought through the crowd
Guess I got too excited when I thought you were around

Oh he gets left, left, left, left, left, left, left

I'm sorry you were thinking; I would steal your fire.
The heart beats in its cage
Yes the heart beats in its cage

And the heart beats in its cage

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