Concert Review: Chris Thile and the Largo-at-the-Coronet, Summer 2011

Yes, this concert was a long time ago.  (And why do I write concert reviews, anyhow? My readers probably don’t have a time machine so can’t attend. ) (Well, Sue, I write concert reviews in hopes of sharing awareness about the musicians.) (If anybody out there does have a time machine, be sure to let me know!  There are many concerts I wish to revisit and this one tops the list.)

One sentence post. Five sentences digression. A new record?

Which adds three sentences to the digression tally.


This concert changed my life. In just a scant few hours, I discovered two of my all-time favorites: one a musician, the other a venue. Chris Thile, the Largo at the Coronet.

I went to the show without knowing Thile’s music. I was ignorant of then-adolescent-Thile’s famous, defunct, alt-bluegrass band, Nickel Creek. I went to the show because I was on the Punch Brothers email list-serv. Thile is a Punch Brother, and that list-serv announced Thile’s show near me, and I figured what the hey At that time, I didn’t really know the Punch Brothers’ music, either. As serendipity would have it, I had recently been in New York for work, had a few hours between meetings, happened to get a ticket to a David Letterman show taping. The musical guest happened to be the Punch Brothers. They played one song and it was awesome, so I found their list-serv. But I hadn’t gotten around to listening to them. (P.S. Turns out they are awesome all the time.)

Thile is a miracle, one of a kind. If you don’t believe me, maybe it will help to learn that T-Bone Burnett calls him a once-in-a-century musician; Yo Yo Ma raves about him. Even more persuasive, perhaps: my teenagers, who I basically forced to attend this concert with me, spent the entire 45-minute drive home thanking me for forcing them. Also, Thile recently won a MacArthur (“Genius”) award, although he doesn’t talk about it much.

Thile primarily plays mandolin. That first concert, he mostly played bluegrass, and Appalachian music, to which I had no aversion but also no previous affinity. He threw in some Radiohead and Shins. Oh, and Bach. Oh, and the Pink Elephants song from DumboIn fact, strands of Pink Elephants kept winding their way into the middle of other tunes, which became laughoutloud funny.

I love good stage patter and Thile had great patter that night. He’s witty, sarcastic, friendly, and smart. Turns out he used to be a regular at the Largo, before he moved to Brooklyn. So there was a warm, homey air in the theater.

Largo at the Coronet Marquee (from

Largo at the Coronet Marquee (from

Turns out there is always a warm, homey air at the Largo at the Coronet, a 300 seat theater with great sound, painful seats and an incredible vibe. The instant I first walked into the courtyard I felt right, being there. I’ve become a regular.  In fact, the Largo has ruined me for other venues. Sadly, I missed out on the original Largo, a tiny bar down the road a piece. When the Largo relocated, it took over the Coronet, which was once a legit theater. Buster Keaton played there. Bertolt Brecht directed Charles Laughton there. Like I said, an incredible vibe.

Largo shows feature a collection of regulars, as well as newcomers. There are comedians and musicians who perform there every month and hang out there the rest of the time. That first night, three other regulars joined Thile on stage. So not only did we discover Thile and the Largo, we also got blown away by Fiona Apple (a modern chanteuse and unique songwriter) and Jon Brion (a musical encyclopedia and champion, maybe not in that order) and Sean Watkins (a wonderful songwriter, guitar player and dry humorist who was in Nickel Creek with Thile).

Now that you have read about the Largo, please forget about it. 300 seats sell fast, I don’t need more purchasing competition.

If Thile ever plays anywhere remotely near where you are – Go. Just go. Don’t miss that show for any reason.

There are many splendid Thile videos on YouTube. Below are a few.

Thile on different musical genres and fans:

Typical improv, this time with bluegrass hero Michael Daves:

Straight-up Bach:

Covering Elliott Smith at the New York installment of No Name #1, a tribute concert:

Short interview with brief snippets of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers:

The WordPress Daily Prompt inquires about firsts.


Concert Review: No Name #1, A Celebration of the Life and Music of Elliott Smith, Largo at the Coronet, Aug 6, 2013

I’m a writer and I love words. I savor the well-strung phrase wherever I find it – a book, stage patter, a movie, an ad, a blog. Song lyrics shape and define me. Early Springsteen’s meandering stage monologues could be my version of a religious experience.

Given all that, you’d think I’d be crazy for singer-songwriters, but I’m usually not. I typically prefer their songs when covered by others. As Noam Pikelny said, introducing a Gillian Welch cover at a Punch Brothers show, “We can’t play it better but we can play it faster.”

I knew Elliott Smith would be an exception. I knew I would love him but despite years of  this awareness I still don’t really know his music. A couple people who serve as music gurus to me have long been Smith fanatics. They told me. I heard them but didn’t act. It can take me a long time to get around to what matters. And I confess I was intimidated by the manner of his suicide, ten years ago. He stabbed himself in the heart. Or anyway that was the way I heard the story.

Couple weeks ago, I went to one of four U.S. concerts, organized by his sister and many musicians who knew and loved him. The concerts were in Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, and Manhattan. I attended the show in LA on August 6. It would have been his 44th birthday. The show occurred at my favorite ever venue, the Largo at the Coronet.  Smith was a regular performer at an earlier incarnation of the Largo (which I completely missed: I was not in LA and anyway not going out to hear music at that dark time in my life).

The four No Name Celebration shows have already sprouted lots of YouTube clips. Each show had maybe a dozen performers who each sang a couple of Smith’s songs.  There were anecdotes about Smith, lots of laughs. It was an intensely emotional night. I like intense emotions, so that was okay for me. And I didn’t even know the songs. I went to learn some Smith. Most of the people in the room knew every song on the first chord.  For my son, a Smith fanatic, hearing the songs in that setting was one of those life-altering events that only live music can give us.

Turns out the shows were called No Name #1 because the organizers hope to make this a recurring event, and because Elliott Smith used to name his songs like that.  In fact, the first Smith song to become permanently stuck in my head is called No Name #1. To publicize the Austin show, David Garza performed the song at a radio station. It breaks my heart. Amazing how great music can do that and still be uplifting.

If you want to check out Smith performing this instead of Garza, there is an audio-only clip on YouTube, just released by the Largo owner right after this show.  It’s from one of Elliott’s old Largo performances.

Garza performed at the LA show also. He was one of the highlights for me. Another standout was Aaron Espinoza, who turns out to be in a band called Earlimart which cites Elliott Smith as one of its major influences. Most of the LA performers were Largo regulars, including Jon Brion and Sean Watkins. (Over the last couple years I have come to love those guys by attending Largo shows. Most Largo shows feature Largo regulars. It’s a place where certain musicians hang out.)

There are beaucoup Elliott Smith clips on YouTube. Here is an oddball one, his performance at the Academy Awards the year Miss Misery was nominated from “Good Will Hunting”. (Director Gus van Sant was the emcee of the Portland No Name Celebration.)  We live in a peculiar world where competitions try to compare Elliott Smith with Celine Dion, whose song from “Titanic” won the Oscar that year.

At the Largo No Name Celebration, initially I thought Jack Black (with his partner in Tenacious D) was out of place when he closed the show. But my kids explained it to me. His goofiness returned us to the world in just the right mood.

On the one hand, I wish you all could have been there; on the other hand that would have made it frigging impossible to get tickets.