Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s been a bit ya’ll! In one of my favorite quaint southern cities, I drew the privilege of covering the return of the incredible Nickel Creek. The show took place in the fully restored, elegant, 1,600 seat venue that is the Tennessee Theatre. This was my first trip to the Theatre and I’m certain it will not be my last. After seeing the domed ceiling and just knowing there would be fantastic acoustics, I was happier than a squirrel in a Planter’s nut plant. (Look for that commercial soon I guess.)
First up were The Secret Sisters, which is comprised of two real life siblings in Laura and Lydia Rogers. I’ll admit, I was granted approval for this show fairly late, so I came in pretty unprepared for their show. That’s not something I do often, but this time I’m glad it happened. Had I heard their recordings, I may not have been caught so completely off guard and struck with awe.
One of the openers of their set was Black and Blue, from their brand spanking new album Put Your Needle Down. I was IMMEDIATELY hooked. These young ladies have created a sound unlike anything else out there. A throwback to the days of minimal instrumentation and vocal harmonies that deliver chills from head to toe. The song was very intelligently written, and those harmonies. Did I mention those yet? Yeesh!! Then, as if I needed another reason to love everything about The Secret Sisters…hand claps. I’m such a sucker for hand claps. It was here that I fell totally in love.
In between the songs, the antics were awesome. From stories about the songs to genuine appreciation for their reception, the girls owned the stage and did so with no gimmicks, no fancy dancing, no fancy light show. Just great music and southern hospitality. Just the way I like it!
Some of the other highlights for me were the somber, yet engaging Let There Be Lonely, and the “murder ballad” Take Me Down to Iuka, Mississippi, as it was dubbed pre-performance.
Then came Rattle My Bones. This track was part Buddy Holly, part Everly Brothers…..and 100% AWESOME.
I can’t say it enough that their harmonies are perfect, delivered only as sisters can. With certain songs, like say Black and Blue, you’d swear the band came from the ’50’s. I’ll put it this way; If The Shirelles or The Supremes had a twang and a penchant for dark tales and heartache, they’d be The Secret Sisters.
I came into this show pretty clueless about these gals, but I left with every intention of adding more coverage, especially after their final song, Tomorrow Will Be Kinder. The sisters realized it was the third anniversary of a very destructive Alabama storm, which was the inspiration for the song. Their performance was stunningly beautiful and put the spotlight on the character of the artists. Kudos young ladies. Kudos.
The Secret Sisters:
By this time, I was so excited I nearly forgot why I was here in the first place. Nearly. It wasn’t long before my mind settled on the fact that I was about to see one of my favorite bands re-take the stage after nearly seven years away. As my photo pass reminded me, this was the 25th anniversary of Nickel Creek and they were about to take the stage. For the first time in forever, I was nervous with anticipation. This was really happening.
As if making a statement to the fans, the new album, A Dotted Line, kicks off with a track called Rest of My Life, which makes it fitting that the show, too, started off that way. With the sheer amount of excitement in the room though, they could have sang a McDonald’s commercial and the crowd would’ve loved it. Instead, they came with new material and sounded as incredible as they ever have. I think this lyric sums it up best: “What a great way to start the first day of the rest of my life.”
After a spirited version of the instrumental classic Scotch and Chocolate, the band played the first of many favorites of the night. This Side drew the honor of the first hit to be included and it felt soooo good. As I mentioned in my review of the new album (You can read that here.), I had forgotten just how much I loved and missed this band.
Next up was my favorite from the new album, Destination. It was here that I noticed something; Everyone was singing along, but silently. Most everyone there was mouthing the words, but the band was crystal clear. That was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like it. When a band has garnered the respect of an entire audience, so much so that they don’t want to interrupt their own enjoyment, they’ve arrived. I’m still smiling as I write this.
The next few songs were absolutely flawless and the crowd let the band know it, after the performances of course. Songs included were a mesmerizing performance of The Lighthouse’s Tale, a quick jaunt through The Smoothie Song, Sarah taking the lead vocal duties for the beautiful Reasons Why and Sean telling the funny story behind the missed apocalypse with 21st of May.
Then things picked up in intensity, as Chris took over for When In Rome, a personal favorite of mine. The musical breakdown had Chris dancing as if he had electricity running through his body. It also seemed as though Chris wasn’t the only one enjoying himself, as Sean broke his top guitar string. After the song, Chris pointed out that Sean rocked his string completely off the guitar. While Sara contemplated the strings life stating, “They give all they can give and we just throw them away.” It was quite comical, especially when Chris said Sara’s take was, “Dark as hell.”
The always elegant Sabra Girl was next, followed by the instrumental Ode to A Butterfly, Wwich led into another favorite from the new album in You Don’t Know What’s Going On. That tracks vocal intensity was a personal highlight for me, just as it is on the album.
The next three songs, each sung by a different member, showcased the bands talent like no other portion of the show. Dubbed the “Angel Song” by many fans, When You Come Back Down was so incredible that I felt
my eyes welling up with tears….I mean, uhhhhh, it was pretty cool.
Then with ukulele in hand, Sarah took center stage for Anthony and the band circled around one microphone to give the vibe of an old school radio performance. Very cool to see, even better to hear!
Sean then took over for Somebody More Like You, which is a pretty dark, bitter song overall, but I’ve always found beauty in it. Perhaps that beauty lies in the poetic justice scenario. Whatever the cause, I loved it.
Next, the band poked a bit of fun at themselves, as they told of their many crazy instrumental song titles, resulting in a performance of the new instrumental with the name that tops them all, Elephant In the Corn, complete with bass player Mark Schatz playing the audible sounds of the elephant.
Chris then donned a guitar, stating, “I always thought I looked weird in these,” which brought on a good laugh before the band went into a haunting version of Doubting Thomas.
One of the most adventurous songs from the new album is Haystack, with its slick production, hip hop beats and quick tempo, I knew that it would be a crowd favorite if it made its way into the setlist. Sure enough, there it was. Sans the beat, stripped down to the band and their instruments, it was an absolute blast. I’d even go as far as to say that I enjoyed it even more than the album version. Haystack is a cover of a Mother Mother’s song, but I really think that Nickel Creek’s version has added the breath needed to make it live once again on the airwaves.
Ending the main set was the classic folk song The Fox. It’s been a staple in their setlist for years, but it’s always fun with its tongue-twisting lyrics and quick tempo. The crowd immediately rose to their feet for yet another ovation and after a short break, the band returned to the fans who were still standing, and played a four song encore. Those four included First and Last Waltz, Helena, Cuckoo’s Nest (which featured a tap dance from bass player Mark Schatz) and they ended the night with the powerful Sam Phillips song Where Is Love Now.
Overall, as a fan, I couldn’t have been more excited, but as a journalist, I was even more happy. Why? I’m glad you asked. The band was all smiles. It’s fun once again and the band sounded fresh, excited and better than ever. That is music to my ears!