When you haven’t seen a band or artist for years, there is a sense of anticipation that you try to control. But when you sit in the Barbican and the hollers and whoops that greet a band as they step onto the stage are loud and long, then you know you can let your hopes off the leash because you KNOW you will not be disappointed. This was the case with Punch Brothers on 16 November 2018 at the Barbican, opening night of the EFG London Jazz Festival. A band that can make a virtue of tuning “I have eight strings, you only have five”, that clusters around one microphone, that jokes about their country being a circus, that looks like they are actually enjoying themselves, this band could sing the phone book and I’d be happy. It is hard to take your eyes off Chris Thile whose extraordinary falsetto vocals and mandolin, nimble movements and facial winks and contortions reminded me of a court jester, and as bitter. The sound man must have had a heart attack when they walked away from the microphone, walked to the edge of the stage and played their encores acoustically.
Absolutely every minute was perfect but I will never forget their title track All Ashore. When it finished, I was choked with tears (as usual) and I am sure Chris Thile had a lump in his throat. There was a nano second of silence before the applause. “Momma cuts like a man-of-war through the fog of an early morning with nothing more than a coffee filling up her sails.” This is why we go to live music, to feel overwhelmed by beauty and artistry in the presence of other people.
Seeing fado star Mariza on 17 November was moving for different reasons. Another set close to two hours, it never felt that long. She also attracted like a magnet, her voice hard to describe, strong yet vulnerable, her presence commanding, her band providing a gorgeous backdrop with the delicate sound of the Portuguese guitar and accordion magic-carpetting us to Lisbon. When she stepped off the stage into the audience, slowly singing her way to the back of the stalls, then worked her way back shaking hands and receiving genuine thanks and appreciation from the many Portuguese people in the audience, I found myself moved again, by her warmth and humility. Look at her face and those near her in the picture below, they are spellbound and happy and she is the real thing.