Following the six previous sold-out episodes of its kick-off season, launched Off-Broadway at Audible’s Minetta Lane Theater in November 2023, The Energy Curfew Music Hour returned on Wednesday, January 24, 2024, with another spectacular one-night-only show that played to a full house of enthusiastic fans and first-timers, all of whom are sure to be back whenever they can get tickets for this phenomenal concert series. But if you can’t, each installment is recorded live for its upcoming release as an Audible Original, so millions of listeners around the globe can enjoy the music, knowledge, humor, and camaraderie of these supremely talented and entertaining musicians and their changing roster of special guest artists.
Created by Chris Thile and Claire Coffee, hosted by Thile and the Grammy-winning band Punch Brothers (Thile on mandolin, Brittany Haas on violin, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Chris Eldridge on guitar, and Paul Kowert on bass), the themed musical variety series is presented in the format of an old-style radio show set in an imagined near-future, when electricity is rationed worldwide and the US has instituted a weekly “energy curfew.” To enforce the use of less electricity and to encourage an “unplugged lifestyle,” the grid goes down for a full 24 hours, and a fully acoustic episode of The Energy Curfew Music Hour is broadcast nationwide an hour before the lights go out.
A transporting set design by Krit Robinson recreates the look of a radio recording studio of the past, with vintage floor-stand mics, music stands, and Edison bulbs, an antique radio cabinet and chairs, and touring trunks, all placed before the upstage wall with wires, lights, and the illuminated EMCH logo (lighting by Isabella Byrd with co-design by Emily Schmit), and a digital teleprompter hung opposite in the house, above the orchestra-level seats at the front of the mezzanine.
Under the direction of Coffee, the warm and amiable Thile took to the stage to introduce, in direct address to the audience, the concept of the show, the seventh episode of its debut season, its presentation by the government’s fictitious “Department of Arts and Waste Management,” and, throughout the evening, the acts and songs, and the recurrent theme of bridges – those spanning the waterways of NYC and those making the transitions in a musical composition – thereby establishing a personal rapport with us while sharing his wit and expertise. Written by Pikelny and Rachel Axler, the between-song banter also included parodic commercial breaks, in mid-century style, delivered by Thile, members of Punch Brothers, and voiceover (clear sound by Cody Spencer), including a hilarious pitch for hiring “Bad News Bearers.”
There was also an extended funny bit of Pikelny (or “Pickles”) considering the Portuguese musical genre choro and the meaning of one of its most famous instrumental numbers “Desvairada,” which Punch Brothers then played, adding to the humor of the show and providing a fast-paced showcase for the consummate musical talent of the stellar acoustic folk/progressive bluegrass/classical group. They also dazzled the crowd with the bluegrass hit “Waterbound,” featuring Thile on lead vocals, a beautiful folk version of The Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” from their 1966 Revolver album, and more, as did their sensational guest stars for the evening, Brooklyn-based Lake Street Dive and multi-award-winning multi-hyphenate Jon Batiste.
LSD lead singer Rachael Price brought down the house with her blockbuster voice and authentic Swing-era-blues stylings on such songs as “Help Myself,” and Louisiana-native Batiste wowed the crowd with his soulful rendition of “You Don’t Know Me.” Their duet on the Duke Ellington standard “I’ve Got It Bad and that Ain’t Good” was one of the standouts in a concert filled with nothing but highlights (including Batiste’s version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” a traditional Christian spiritual popularized by Louis Armstrong’s 1938 jazz recording). He also performed lengthy improvisational jazz segments on piano, along with Thile on mandolin, and later displayed his skill on the melodica.
Each and every number was met with well-deserved ovations from the audience and with obvious appreciation from the other artists in the show. Their love of music, joy in performing, and mutual respect for the extraordinary talents of their colleagues was evident throughout, and added a shared feeling of intimacy and connection to this top-notch production.
Chris Thile and Punch Brothers will close out the premiere season of The Energy Music Curfew Hour on Saturday, January 27, with special guests Kacey Musgraves and Tiny Habits. If you don’t already have a ticket, or if you missed the fabulous installment on January 24, you can look forward to listening to the live recordings on Audible and to the second season on stage at Minetta Lane. Either way, EMCH a must for music-lovers!
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, without intermission.
The Energy Music Curfew Hour played on Wednesday, January 24, 2023, at Audible’s Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC. Tickets for Saturday, January 27 (the final live episode of the first season), are presently sold out.