Nels Cline Singers Scream

The Nels Cline Singers, who don’t really sing, ignite Johnny Brenda’s

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Nels Cline @ Johnny Brenda's Philly

On a day when Philadelphia hit 103 degrees, the guitar of Nels Cline often sounded like it had been left to bake on the sun heated sidewalk, emitting the squawks, squeals and crunch of fried circuits and melted strings screaming in agony.  Nels Cline, erstwhile guitarist for Wilco, turned in a tour de force performance with his trio, The Nels Cline Singers that started with a 35 minute excursion that moved through moments of tranquility, hard-edged groove and raga-like melodicism, all of which emerged from a sea of distortion.  It was like speeding down the highway at night, one station dissolving into static as another moved into range.

Megamouth

Nels Cline likes to make noise.  His guitars are processed through a myriad of effects that he tweaks obsessively at times.  He flails at his strings with all kinds of objects and on one piece, he sings into  a Megamouth, a small disc-shaped electronic megaphone which he projects that into the pick-ups on his guitar.

But moments of Stockhausen-like cacophony transitioned into power groove tracks and delicate reveries.  A song that recalled the pointilism of Paul Bley segues into a raging, Latin-tinged rocker.  “Forge” was a driving piece with a slo-mo ostinato guitar riff setting the stage for a solo by  Scott Amendola that recalled Rashied Ali.  “B86” was the soundtrack for a spaceship landing.

The Nels Cline Singers are an intuitive unit that knows all their moves no matter how far out they get.   Devin Hoff spent most of the night on double-bass, trying to hold the maelstrom together while Scott Amendola deployed polyrhythmic fury and hard edged grooves.  They drew much of their materiel from their latest album, Initiate, a half studio/half live double CD.  But they also pulled out older works and covered “And Now the Queen” by Carla Bley.

“King Queen” was a psychedelic jam with Yuka Honda of the band Cibo Matto, augmenting the trio, laying down a a two chord Farfisa organ-like vamp against Devin Hoff’s ostinato electric bass while Cline whipped out an acid drenched raga solo of screaming sustain, bent notes and whiplash effects.  Honda slowed the momentum on her static solo but Cline whipped it up again for the closer.  It was like being at the Fillmore West circa 1968.

Nels Cline is an extraordinary guitarist who had his own career going a long time before he hooked up with Wilco.  He plays the guitar with such reckless abandon that it’s sometimes hard to believe that anything coherent could come out of it.  But whether deploying circuit-bent, mutated loops and sonic bombs or articulating a delicate ballad, he’s a musician immersed in sound, and at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia a packed house was immersed with him.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))


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