Imagine arriving at one of 2 top chefs restaurant with sought after seating and with no idea what you're about to taste for the next hour and a half. The 12 course menu starts with an amuse bouche. One with flavour notes you're not heard in a while and includes a satisfying crunch. The meal continues with some eclectic charcuterie, old moldy cheese and some veggies or flowers or herbs that you've only heard about in passing. Eventually you're led to a dessert that envolopes your tongue and slides graciously down your gullet.
That's a long winded way to describe what Nels Cline (ape-shit guitar player in Wilco, this will make you melt) and B.J. Novak's dopalganger, co-guitarist Julian Lage's set was like. These two guys pretty much ignored all melodic musical hook rules, meaning they seemed to favoured to play the notes and clashing harmonies that most aren't used to.
Something amazing about this was knowing that this wasn't improv, it was composed songs that are difficult to imagine as being repeatable. Yet they are. Nels brought an impressive 16 CD's to sell (come on management! Only 16?) related to this show. It was surprising how little merch there was, but probably couldn't be matched to the live version which really was an illusion of uncomposition.
They were amazingly tight considering how many uncovential movements that were happening. There were very rare moments where their eyes met, but they were always musically locked, with the four of them. At least with Julian's eyes, feverishly enjoying what his compadre was doing while he accompanied.
This is going to get guitar nerdy. You'd better be sitting down. So for the amuse bouche, they appeared to be screwing around with diminished chords. Inversions were turning around each other. As they work with the guitar, you just mathematically work out if you hold the pattern. They were embedding the diminished pattern in different ways against AND along each other. It's kinda hard to explain, right or wrong. Just think of how complicated quantam physics are and there you have it.
The show escalated to a set of tunes, with names that everyone would want to know where the name came from, on account of them not having any words. They clearly have meaning, you'll never know what they are.
All that mattered was that they were pretty much using every dissonant chord, and clashing note they could put together in a string that made sense overall. Every triad had at least one flattened 5th or sharpened 9th, with a smattering of 7ths and thirds both ways. This was a huge main course with lots of flavourful moldy cheese and aged cured charcuterie from parts you normally don't want to know about. Things may clash, but there's always satisfaction. Sorry about the food simile again, but it was palatable. (yeah, that word is a bit of a twist on palpable -- on purpose but with real intention).
Nels had found a resonating sound artifact disturbing the moments where silence was part of the recipe and removed a reverb pedal to use the internal amp reverb. It was an 'E' by the way. They had discovered it in sound check earlier, identified the actual note using harmonics on the guitar and rejigged the plugs to get rid of it. It found it's way back and they adapted.
The new silence, during the quietly decading finishes became brilliant. Seriously, when it got quiet, anyone in the 100ish crowd sniffing was heard. Oh, and here's a tip, lay off the farting in shows like these.
As any good meal eater knows, a great feast includes a sweet, sweet desert. Nels and Julian served that up with completely harmonically satisfying natural notes. This included everyone's favourite C, G, D...you just can't get any better than that. This was the crème brulée of chords and melodies.
It's obvious this simile is ridiculous however, it's all about taste. Some dishes taste great to some, and not as much to others. There is no denying that the same is true for music at festivals like all three Ottawa music festivals that take over the entire summer. You never know what you might be missing if you don't at least look at the menu.
And here is the carmelized (why won't the simile end?) sugar on top of that extra dessert. Bill Frisell later played the late night super fun happy tent providing the soundtrack to an old Buster Keaton film, Go West. This is absolutely a great trend that started here last year with the Triplets of Belleville performance last year, with foley artists! With every musician having a display in front of them, they perfectly timed every comedic fall with bass drum hits, or simulated a trianluar dinner bell with cymbal rings. At the same time superfluous harmonic overtones filled the tent.
There was one scene where a firetruck was called for and at that very moment, no shit, a siren swelled by, lighting up the tent in red white and blue lights as it continued down laurier street. Isn't it possible that was planned?
Syncronicity managed to dominate the stage from this point on. Watching a silent film that the Frisell ensemble pretty much directed the audience to, told a story. A dufus who finds his way onto a ranch before the internet, seems to be looking for something, falls over shit, told to brand a cow to which he magically pulls out a shaving kit (did people carry those back then?) and SHAVES the brand into the cow (ok for you PETA?) and continues his way through his adventure, leading an unwilling herd and mutherfucking soundtracked by Bill Frisell....Live, ultimately getting his reward. His cow. Not Bill, the dude in the film.