The Hype: Guitar virtuoso Nels Cline of Wilco fame making an appearance at DiPiazza's in Long Beach? An enticing proposition, indeed. Performing with visual artist Norton Wisdom under the moniker Stained Radiance, the nagging question permeating the small dining room was, why would Cline be sharing the stage with a painter?
|Nels Cline (left) playing totally un-Wilco|
The curiosity and anticipation of what was about to unfold led to some lofty expectations. After all, Cline has played not only with the likes of Jeff Tweedy and company, but also '90s bohemian-alterna-rockers Geraldine Fibbers as well as punk hero (and local god) Mike Watt.
The Show: Any one of the 50 or so people perched around the dining room and adjacent bar area expecting to be lulled, soothed and inspired by warm dulcet guitar sounds à la Wilco's "Hummingbird" would have been sorely disappointed. Good thing for them, this show only cost $7. During the 30 minute performance, Cline's amplifier emitted a series of blips, screeches and groans that at times sounded like a raging dragon crossed with a malfunctioning ham radio. Wisdom meanwhile painted human figures on what can best be described as an oversized light-box.
The first thing that came to mind was a '00 episode of the Simpsons in which houseguest Becky (voiced by Parker Posey) paints a portrait of Lisa playing sax while Lisa jams to Becky's painting. It was an episode that demonstrated this type of performance art as a joke long before Cline and Wisdom decided to undertake it seriously. That said, there was a slightly hypnotic quality to Wisdom's brush working across the light-box as human forms slowly emerged. There were even moments when the beauty of what he was doing superseded the silliness of it all. But by the end of the set, the light-box sort of resembled an impressionist image of an 18th century family transposed by fish monsters and perhaps a rhesus monkey. Meanwhile, Cline's sonic improvisations, while highly artful, soon grated.
The Crowd: Sedate and perpetually seated, except when a few got up to leave. It was a hodgepodge of old and young with some in the room drinking Pabst and others drinking Cabernet. At least one person had his fingers stuck firmly in his ears. Mike Watt was in the crowd, taking the occasional break from eating dinner to snap a picture of the performers. During the climax of one song, Watt brought his hands up and mimed enthusiastically to the sounds.
Overheard: "It was interesting, huh?" said a concertgoer following Stained Radiance's set.