There are few pleasures in life that compare to encountering music that liberates us from our expectations. Tireless musical explorers Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau have set out on a collaborative journey that promises to take us into uncharted territory. Each a genius in their own right and each tethering an audience that has swelled beyond their requisite market, the duo have embarked on a U.S. tour that opened at New York’s Bowery Ballroom on a surprisingly warm spring night.
The set list ran the gamut, seemingly with contributions from each side and a few choices that nicely bridged their respective backgrounds. Among the most resonant with the hip New York crowd was a terrific arrangement of Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” which Thile owned convincingly on vocals. Jumping seamlessly between jazz, Irish folk reels and pop songs, Thile and Mehldau seemed to take every risk they could think of, all while avoiding the presumed pitfall of stepping on each others toes amidst constant improvisation.
The demeanor of the somewhat older and decidedly even-keeled Brad Mehldau played counterpoint to the energetic and talkative Chris Thile. In their respect for one another’s ideas and musical space however, the duo proved surprisingly like-minded. The breadth of their taste and collaborative potential came into focus with the choice of a solemn rendering of Randy Newman’s “In Germany,” and a crowd-pleasing cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which together formed the encore of a set that made everyone thirsty for more.