The surreal world of Nels Cline on display at The Chapel

Nels-Cline-SingersBy Tom Dellinger //

Nels Cline Singers //
The Chapel — San Francisco
May 9th, 2014 //

This past Friday, a packed house of fans spent a few hours in the unique sonic world of guitarist, Nels Cline, for his appearance at The Chapel. Cline has a lengthy discography and is perhaps best known for his work with Wilco, which he joined in 2004, though he also performs with his other bands, the Nels Cline Trio and the Nels Cline Singers. He’s been selected as one of the top 100 guitar players of all time by both Spin and Rolling Stone magazines and it’s not likely that anyone in attendance at this show would take issue with that. Appearing with Nels were drummer Scott Amandola, bassist Trevor Dunn and percussionist, Cyro Baptista, who has been referred to as “the mad scientist of Brazilian percussion.”


To enter the unique world of Nels Cline is to enter a musical sphere where virtually everything is possible. It’s a dynamic realm filled with flights of seemingly non musical soundscapes blended with great rhythmic colors and textures provided by his rhythm section. Nels is remarkably resourceful in his approach to guitar and is open to all manner of exploration. He makes use of an extensive array of electronic devices that he uses as tools to color his work and coupled with his physical techniques on the guitar, he takes the listener on an exhilarating ride where nothing is predictable. In addition to brilliant guitar playing in the traditional sense, he also employs the use of tools such as chopsticks, a spring, and a small self contained mic/speaker he uses to vocalize right into the pickup of the guitar.


His compositions are all about movement. Often, they are soundscapes of squelches, clicks, feedback, looping dense drones, jarring passages on guitar and anything else one could pull out of the “kitchen sink” that somehow find a rhythmic context when combined with the work from Scott, Cyro and Trevor. Throughout the evening, one could find themselves in a comfortable, more traditional section of a composition, and in an instant, be launched into an aural world filled with sonic flights of fancy as surreal as any dream. It was a night of moving in and out of that dream-like world, only to reluctantly wake up at its conclusion.

True innovators in the world of guitarists are few and far between and Nels is most certainly in that realm. It is his restless, artistic curiosity and creativity that places him there and we were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience his music in such a fine intimate setting.







  1. John losavio says:

    Beautiful work, Tom, some of the most dynamic images of Nels in flight I’ve seen! Nice meeting you and your wife before the show, hope to run into you again.

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