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Nels Cline Singers
Los Angeles CA, 1 February 2005

February 1, 2005—one Tuesday night, two gigs for the Nels Cline Singers. The first is a 7 PM in-store at the cavernous Amoeba Music in Hollywood, the second a midnight set at the intimate Spaceland in Silver Lake, both as familiar as the back of his hand to LA native son Nels Cline. The Amoeba crowd of about 200 line three or four long aisles of vinyl, CDs, and DVDs, bobbing their heads and smiling as Cline takes them on a joyous trip where Hendrix meets Wes Montgomery meets Fred Frith meets Jim Hall meets Sonic Youth meets Nels Cline. Almost entirely male—lots of dark clothes, some stocking caps, some graying hair—these guys dig Mr. Cline big time, and line up after the 40-minute set for autographed copies of his new Cryptogramophone CD The Giant Pin. No time for long conversations with old friends, however, because the next gig beckons and there are no roadies to carry the drums, acoustic bass, and guitar gear back up Sunset to Spaceland. Logistically, tonight is quite different from the auditorium road gigs Cline has been working almost non-stop since he joined the Chicago-based Wilco in Spring 2004.

Listening to Nels Cline’s astounding guitar playing is like looking into the Sun while only metaphorically going blind. The brilliance of his music thrills, stuns, overwhelms—it truly inspires awe. No one I have heard controls the nuances of electric guitar playing and electronic guitar processing like Nels Cline. His playing evokes the extremes of sonic texture found in classical electronic music (Xenakis, Stockhausen, Pousseur, Tudor), segues on a dime to delicate, finger-picked acoustics, and then screams the wailing high notes of blues-based stadium rock or of yet another god of the guitar, this one from the glory days of fusion: Mahavishnu Orchestra’s John McLaughlin. Tonight, propelled by San Francisco Bay-area bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola, the sheer force of Cline’s guitar bursts through the finite confines of Spaceland’s black walls and low ceiling into the farthest reaches of interstellar space. Nels Cline has evolved the guitar to a level words can barely describe. If there is justice in this musical Universe, his place in the celestial choir of guitar gods will be assured.

© 2005 Richard Paske