Thursday, March 01, 2007

where the wild things are

Or, perhaps, the zealous ones, judging by the sheer number of gearheads who came out for the Nels Cline/Glenn Kotche double bill.

Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche, Cafe du Nord, February 26, 2007: Shaky employment prospects kept me from catching Nels and Glenn on their tandem tour of the East Coast last year. Luckily, they brought their act out west, and lightning, hail, and whipping winds weren't enough to keep me away from a show featuring two of my favorite musicians. I certainly missed Trish and Maudie's presence (get better soon, ladies!), but despite the ugly conditions, a respectable crowd filled Cafe du Nord. Heck, I even spied LeRoy Bach (formerly of Five Style and Wilco, among others) in the audience.

mega mouthNels and Glenn each took up about half the tiny stage, the two of them loaded down with a different set of musical implements than I'm used to seeing. Glenn, especially, brought a ton of toys: cymbals affixed to more cymbals, several varieties of drumsticks, and what looked like a torchiere bearing a spiraling metal cascade. Nels, meanwhile, brandished a set of guitars that he doesn't usually play with Wilco, including a shiny brown Danelectro; he also brought what I discovered is called the Mega Mouth--the thing I've likened to a pink hockey puck in past reports.

First up was Nels, but there was some question as to which incarnation of the man would grace us with his presence: jazz Nels, freeform Nels, rootsy Nels, rocking Nels--maybe even Nels the vocalist? Well, a little of all of them, but he started out on a major noise-drenched bender. In the background, he set up a droning, persistent tone. To my naked eye, his gizmos looked like a couple of old, mic'd transistor radios, but I defer to the surrounding gearheads, who said something about how these items were used to mimic the sound of a sitar.

Nels Cline, Cafe du Nord, February 26, 2007At the front of the stage, Nels projected his voice through the Mega Mouth and over the guitar strings, creating another wordless, sweeping layer of ambience. Atop those sounds, he jammed in a series of short, forceful riffs. As this discordant exercise progressed and I wondered where Nels was headed, he turned on the sort of crystalline, inspirational notes that he's employed to lift many a musical composition.

Not long ago, the prospects of seeing Glenn solo out west seemed slim, but last year's tour with Jeff Tweedy took care of that precedent. However, in these intimate environs, Glenn's set took on a different dimension.

Although Glenn's set was very similar to what he played with Jeff, his actions seemed better defined and more visceral in this small space. Once again, I was struck by the strength of his arrangements; he has a way of bringing out the melodies in pieces that are ostensibly percussive in nature. At the same time, he just as convincingly brought the rawk, as anyone who's heard the crash of his cymbals can attest. Glenn also took more time to explain some of his inspirations, and he dedicated the João Gilbert cover to LeRoy Bach.

Glenn Kotche, Cafe du Nord, February 26, 2007Nels and Glenn came together to conclude the show with a collaborative medley: a cover of Sonic Youth's "Karen Coltrane" from A Thousand Leaves (which Nels called no less than "one of the greatest recordings in the history of Western music"), dovetailing into Nels's own "Caved In Heart Blues." Neither held back on this sprawling duet. Nels wasn't shy with the Mega Mouth, and at one point, Glenn played what looked like a small metal bowl filled with beans--and I couldn't help but think about the possibilities of adding a certain improv-minded multi-instrumentalist (perhaps on piano?) to the mix. Sigh.

Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche, Echo Lounge, February 27, 2007: Overheard at the show: "That's the biggest zildo I've ever seen!"

It was night two for me, but it was the last evening of the tour for Nels and Glenn, and they both mentioned it several times during the set. But of course, with a new Wilco album looming, it's far from the end of the line for the pair.

Nels kicked it off once more, declaring from the outset that he had no idea what he was going to do. And as you might expect from someone as dedicated to improv as Nels, he really did unleash something new. The Mega Mouth re-emerged, but this time, it was accompanied by a lap steel and a couple of other unfamiliar guitars. To begin, Nels ventured out on a slightly more accessible note, but the spell didn't last for long. Before you knew it, we were encompassed in the combined beauty and chaos of a Nels Cline track.

Glenn Kotche, Echo Lounge, February 27, 2007Though he noted that the floor drum was feeding back, Glenn forged ahead with his customary set. Tonight, we were positioned right next to Glenn's kit, so we could see his full range of actions and their effects. I loved the two sets of handheld percussive devices he used on the last segment; one looked like a child's paddleball toy, only made of tin and without the ball! Glenn tossed it away during one of the song's transitions, only to have Nels throw it back at him later in the evening. We saw it fly around like a hot potato at least a couple more times before the show's conclusion.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that this was my second show in Los Angeles in five days and that I came home to San Francisco in between. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone who knows me, especially if you're aware of one of my many tenets of rock tourism: See the last show(s) of the tour if you can, even if it means you're in Los Angeles for less than 12 hours and back on a plane to get to work in the morning--hypothetically speaking. I firmly stand by that rule, especially when either Nels Cline or Glenn Kotche are involved.

See also:
» i don't want to leave this walking dream
» pumpkin
» and when you touch down
» i hear you sing a golden hymn
» just keep counting the stars

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