Review | Chris Thile: Mandolinist Extraordinaire

Eight-String Phenom Lit up Campbell Hall

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Chris Thile

By now, Santa Barbarans have witnessed enough of mandolinist extraordinaire Chris Thile’s one-man concerts that the context has morphed from novel to natural. Thile made an indelible impression in 2014 at the Lobero, with a CAMA-sponsored, Bach-heavy solo show, and he dazzled in a more eclectic mode at Campbell Hall two years ago.

Returning to Campbell Hall last Tuesday, the tall, tousle-haired man wonder — now deep into his fascinating weekly public-radio gig, leading Live from Here — seemed more relaxed, crowd-embracing, and expansive than ever. He’s increasingly comfortable with himself, or more aptly, his multiple musical personalities, an unusually open-eared musician and an organic genius who is inclusive of his listeners along his expressive journeys.

This journey included a snippet of Bach, folk music from the British Isles to Brooklyn to the American South, art-pop originals reminiscent of Gabriel Kahane, samples of his musical-in-progress (about the birth of the telegraph — why not?), and more. Somehow, it all cohered into a unified whole rather than being a piecemeal smorgasbord.

We also heard samplings from his famous/infamous “song of the week” series, a discipline tended for his radio routine, resulting in a rich, intelligent, and wry songbook. Take, for instance, his new-ish song “Dionysus,” a beauty however you stylistically slice it. For the encore, Thile played the Punch Brothers’ cautiously optimistic “This is the Song (Good Luck).”

Thile has so much musical energy and encyclopedic resources he can easily fall into while medley-making. He opened and immediately won us over with a dazzling medley, including “Silver Dagger,” “Attaboy,” and the Whites Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” Later, gamely opening the floodgates for requests, he ran through a handful of titles and folded in a teaser of “Sweet Home Alabama,” replete with an audience singalong. That’s the way he rolls, as both artiste and affable virtuoso-next-door.

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