Dangerous Waves: Nels Cline, Thurston Moore, Zeena Parkins
Nels Cline, Zeena Parkins, and Thurston Moore came on stage and plugged in their various electronic tools. Electric harpist Parkins provided the sonic foundation for the first set, starting off with a simple three-note motif. Electric guitarist Moore, with his usual aplomb, set away busily scratching and scrabbling: square waves aplenty. Between these two dominant voices (more to come), guitarist Nels Cline employed the broadest range of color and tone, but often ended up playing more of a peripheral role.
Zeena Parkins, front center, took full advantage of her electronics to give each note she played maximum effect. While occasionally offering up vanilla reverb or square wave noise, Parkins mostly occupied the middle zone: hard to pin down, too quick to even try. She made regular use of her "whammy bar" to stretch the strings on the end of her harp, offering a microtonal effect and helping reinforce the concept of harmonic continuum. While she occasionally plucked pretty chords in the treble zone, she more frequently strummed arcs of sound. The bass offered Parkins the most room to run. She spent much of her time focusing on the tones and overtones possible in the nether regions, employing higher-order harmonics generated by scratching or rubbing the strings. But most importantly, the harpist offered a relatively rigid foundation for the group. She provided the structure that made possible many interesting paths of disorder. Her metric units served as leaping off points for the two guitarists, and her harmonic definition a suitable backdrop for their wild experimentation. Not to imply that Parkins was some sort of law-and-order enforcer, but she seemed to respect the importance of cohesion and play her part accordingly.
Guitarist Thurston Moore, situated at the right, spent the first several minutes of the performance playing his guitar without lifting it off the amp where it was resting. He made unassuming use of irony, treating his instrument as an object to be manipulated rather than an attached part of his body. As the set progressed, he eventually slung the guitar around his shoulders and played more "conventionally"if one can call his idiosyncratic style conventional. Moore utilized maximum distortion for most of the set. That meant his playing defined itself with a peculiar order that frequently relied on overtones (scratching, tapping, rubbing) to achieve texture. During moments of building intensity, Moore picked rapid-fire at his instrument, tossing out obscene clusters of notes which obeyed few of the known conventions of harmony. By the time he reached the peak, he was strumming feverishlywith a facial expression that was focused but glacial. Fans of Moore (and the open-minded) appreciated the sheer meteorological force of his playing; others in the audience seemed a bit confused and overwhelmed. (Perhaps one exhibit too many leading up to the group improvisation.)
Guitarist Nels Cline occupied his space on the left of the stage with a hyperkinetic, full-bodied approach. He kept his feet busy activating electronics, constantly reached over to twiddle knobs, and meanwhile launched a perverse assault on his guitar. He started out sliding a metal rod to "strum" (sort of like slide guitar in reverse), then eventually graduated to the eggbeater. I kid you not: Nels Cline has a talent with the eggbeater. The coiled handle end served as a perfect tool to generate full-bodied scratching sounds, while the beater part was ideal as a percussive tool to bounce off strings and achieve a sharper attack. Cline made more regular use of relatively "clean" tones than the other two players, providing detail and contrast. He came at his instrument from the perspectives of pure rhythm (regular strumming), pure harmony (implying bass overtones), and pure melody (clean singing notes). At times one could even detect the clear mountain waters of plucked harmonics. Unfortunately a lot of his play was lost in the depths of the volume pedal, while at other times he cranked up his sound to dominating levels.