I believe there was once a famous showtune written in the golden age of song, in which the chorus was “Don’t Believe The Hype” which is a brilliant statement. These days when the hype often overshadows the event itself, we must all be weary.
Last week, it was announced Nels Cline and Marc Ribot would play as a duo at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village. Thats like Picasso and Da Vinci getting together to do a little fingerpainting. That’s like Steve Jobs and Eric Tarn getting together to build and internet. The comparisons could go on and on. Its no secret that I hold both of these musicians in high regard. If you added Smokey Hormel to the mix, you would have the 3 greatest living guitar players. So its no secret that I was quite excited to attend.
By complete coincidence, whilst strolling through the west village last weekend, Nels Cline appeared in front of me. Caught off guard, i just said “Hey Nels!” I guess when you see someone fairly often, they feel so familiar that a greeting is necessary. Being the lovely fellow he is, he stopped and chatted with us for a bit, saying he had no idea what he and Ribot would play, which felt like a recipe for some fantastic guitar dueling.
When seeing either of these players on their own, you expect some fireworks. And it inevitably happens. Ribot could be playing a solo acoustic performance, but you know there will be that moment where he launches into orbit. With Nels, its just his thing, he can’t help but be a highly evolved space alien, who carries a brain evaporating space gun with him at all times.
The set started out very mellow, Nels on a Dobro, Ribot on an old Gibson acoustic. The first few songs were spent feeling out some territory. Very melodic, slightly haunting. No shredding solos. Further into the set, Nels moved to lap steel, ribot played what sounded like a baritone electric, and things got crazy.
In this setting, with no additional instruments, no rehearsal, you can really see the true character of each musician. Yes, they played a lot of notes, but no toes were stepped on. It was not just shred for the sake of shred. It was a conversation, all very tasteful. Sure, the conversation was about things mere mortals such as us will never be capable of understanding, but a tasteful conversation nonetheless. The lap steel portion bordered on country, spooky and western sounding.
The evening’s explosion came, as expected, when each musician moved to their most familiar instrument. Nels to a Jazzmaster, and Ribot to what I think was an ES-125. Their voice was immediately recognizable. Ribot with the clangy edge to all his notes, and nels with a pure and focused tone, even when covered in all sorts of distortion.
In the end, it wasn’t a pissing match of epic proportion, or a chops display. Really, none of us should have expected something like that from musicians of this caliber. Lets hope somehow this was recorded, or leads to more collaborations like it. On the other hand, the selfish elitist in me hopes this was a one off, so in 30 years, I can look back and say “yep, I was totally there, young child who now plays all music on a futuristic tablet like device, people used to play wooden boxes with strings on them!”