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Concert Reviews:
Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple Don't Fall Far From The Tree

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2007

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- On paper, the pairing of Nickel Creek and Fiona Apple looked a little odd.

In the flesh, it was sublime.

Apple, who's joining Nickel Creek for a quick leg of the bluegrass trio's Farewell (For Now) Tour, hails from the pop and modern rock worlds. Yet her own work displays a diverse muso sensibility, which she parlayed into a unique but not unreasonable fit with Nickel Creek on Saturday night (August 9th) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival. Some of Nickel Creek's fans seemed a bit disarmed by Apple's vociferous following, but nobody could deny they were seeing something genuinely special during the nearly two and a half hours the two acts played.

A Nickel Creek show, of course, is usually a treat with or without special guests, and saying farewell -- for now or forever -- seemed to push the trio even a little more. The group began the night with the building dynamics of the instrumental "Scotch & Chocolate" before turning to favorites such as "When in Rome," "Reasons Why" and "Ode to a Butterfly." The vocal harmonies were spot on, while siblings Sara (fiddle) and Sean (guitar) Watkins and Chris Thile, who's stature and slo-eyed good looks make him the John Mayer of the mandolin, traded increasingly more intricate solos, culminating in definitive versions of "Best of Luck," "Smoothie Song" and "Stumptown."

Apple, who met Nickel Creek via the Watkins' regular Thursday night jam session at the Largo nightclub in Los Angeles, seemed somewhat tentative as she walked on stage for her first segment but quickly shed that and was dancing like a ragamuffin as she and the group -- backed by bassist (and, yes, tap dancer) Mark Schatz -- tore into her "Extraordinary Machine," keeping it melodically faithful but different, of course, due to the instrumentation.

Apple teamed with Sara Watkins for a duet on Gillian Welch's "Sing That Rock 'n' Roll," and with Sean Watkins for a rendition of Irving Berlin's "All Alone." Her own "Limp" and "Fast As You Can" sounded natural in their new sonic setting, and a jaunty, "high 'n' lonesome" arrangement her hit "Criminal" had Thile proclaiming "the dawn of a whole new star -- next is yodeling!"

Nickel Creek and Apple finished the evening with the group's "Lighthouse's Tale" and an Appalachian-styled reworking of Apple's "You Belong to Me." There was nary a word of farewell from Nickel Creek, although Watkins did tell the crowd that "we'll see you next time" -- which will hopefully come after only a short hiatus.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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