LUKE DOUCET AND THE WHITE FALCON and NELS CLINE AND ZEENA PARKINS at SLEEPWALK GUITAR FESTIVAL, The Great Hall, Friday, November 2. Rating: NNN
The first night of the second annual Sleepwalk Guitar Festival was all about contrast: improvisation versus composition, classical versus experimental guitar tones, jazz versus rock.
The night kicked off with curator/performer Luke Doucet interviewing Wilco's Nels Cline. The two played a little guitar together and discussed Cline's side projects, including his jazz trio The Nels Cline Singers, and whether Cline should be classified as a jazz player (no clear answer there). The two geeked out about guitarists they love, including Television's Richard Lloyd, who was at the fest last year.
Doucet then talked to steel player Cindy Cashdollar about living and working in Nashville and Austin, pedal steel "boot camp" and her experience playing on Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind. (Cashdollar is playing the festival's Steel Away workshop Saturday afternoon).
As he promised when they got on stage, Cline and harpist Zeena Parkins played two short sets of improvised music; one acoustic and one electric. The acoustic part was very percussive, with both musicians banging and hitting and knocking and touching every part of their instruments they could explore in a kind of noisy conversation until they arrived at what sounded like a musical traffic jam.
Parkins' prepared harp proved very versatile: what initially appeared to be a gaudy, shiny decoration, doubled as a turntable-like scraping sound, and she also used a piece of fabric to stop her strings from vibrating. When she opened up all the strings and strummed them hard, the release from the containment sounded new.
Ironically, the duo's electric segment sounded more commonplace, with Cline working piles of feedback with a Fender Jazzmaster, knobs and pedals, and singing into his guitar, and Parkins leaning her body into a theramin-like electric harp.
When Luke Doucet and The White Falcon came on stage for a rare appearance after (Doucet and Melissa McClelland have been focusing on Whitehorse), it was a bit of a relief to hear conventional, melodic songs again. The group focused on their classic rock-inspired recent album Steel City Trawler, but also played older material like Cleveland and Blood's Too Rich. At the audience's urging, McClelland sang Passenger 24.
Though the band was in great form, after a while I began to miss Cline's experimental guitar sounds.
Though Friday night wasn't about collaboration, the workshops happening all weekend are.