I’ve never enjoyed it when a band I like breaks up. Well, until now.

Even if the onstage collaboration with Fiona Apple boosted the trio’s spirits and sound, Nickel Creek’s mid-August show at Ravinia Festival outside of Chicago proved that it might not be so bad that they chose to let the fire die.

Expecting Apple to open for the bluegrassy headliners, it came as a surprise when they came on stage first. More surprising, though, was how deadpan and uninterested the band seemed, as if they were just going through the motions. On the verge of an approaching hiatus, their live performance provided insight as to why they are probably disbanding. The reason? Chris Thile.

As the mandolinist for Nickel Creek and a music community-known prodigy, the man undeniably outshines Creek siblings Sara and Sean Watkins, specifically the latter. And after seeing Thile and The How To Grow A Band this summer, his newest, supremely impressive outfit rounds out his skills and sounds a lot better, too.

But I’m not the only one enjoying his new project more than Creek – Thile himself looked significantly happier during his How To Grow A Band performance than he did onstage at Ravinia. Thankfully, Apple’s mid-show entrance injected the band with life, turning the show in a different direction.

Teaming Apple up with Nickel Creek, the new-found quartet created fresh versions of favorites such as “Extraordinary Machine,” “Parting Gift,” and most notably, “Criminal,” to which Fiona wiggled and thrusted her body in every which way as she danced. More of a slam poet than a singer, an artist than a musician, Apple’s performance energized the crowd, but left Sara, Creek’s violinist, competing for the spotlight.

Even if Nickel Creek played well and the collaboration with Fiona Apple was a unique experience, it comes down to this: I’d rather see Thile in an outlet where he comfortably holds center stage, and if that means they have to split along the way, then so be it.

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