All swan songs should be executed with the grace and tunefulness displayed by Nickel Creek Friday night at the
The bluegrass-folk-pop trio's "Farewell (For Now) Tour" was everything for which a longtime fan could have hoped.
They performed a long, wide-ranging set full of the well-known, the well-liked, and great surprises. They refused to be maudlin, saying only a heartfelt aloha at night's end. And they added value and spice by bringing along friend Fiona Apple.
As such, the goodbye was a grand celebration of the trio's acoustic virtuosity and shiver-inducing harmonies and the joys of cross-pollination.
The band, given a steady anchor by bassist and Lexington native Mark Schatz, began with the aching "Big Sam Thompson," giving mandolinist-vocalist Chris Thile the first of many moments to shine.
The group was locked in an almost palpable simpatico throughout the night, moving skillfully through the eruptive "Smoothie Song" and easing into the hushed "Jealous of the Moon" with a deft touch.
Sara Watkins impressed equally with her expressive fiddle work and flinty vocals, igniting Jon Brion's explosive, emotional "Trouble" with her sweet but powerful voice. Brother Sean may have hung back a bit but his agile guitar work made its presence known.
Apple arrived for her first set about 40 minutes into the performance and proved as flexible as her friends. She was playful yet intense on her own tick-tocking "Extraordinary Machine." "Limp" lost none of its churning menace in acoustic translation. She easily switched gears, channeling the Boswell Sisters for a torchy cover of Irving Berlin's "All Alone" and sashayed confidently through Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight," her chalky alto fitting perfectly with the voices of the Creek.
The group carried on by itself again for 45 minutes, going from solemn to blistering with "Out of the Woods" and "When in Rome" and stretched out on a head-spinning version of "House Carpenter" marked by Thile's wistful tenor entreaties and soulful picking.
Apple returned for another short set that included a terrific bluegrass reimagining of her "Criminal" and an encore that found all five musicians huddled around one microphone, capping the night with the gently sublime, call-and-response pleasures of "Tonight You Belong to Me."
Whether this tour turns out to be the final curtain or just the beginning of a long intermission, it was an exquisite goodbye that will keep Nickel Creek's name in good stead.