By Izzy Yellen
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Lawrence University students and faculty had the unique treat to see two very different concerts in one sitting, hosted by the Band Booking Committee (BBC). First up was Nels Cline, the lead guitarist of Wilco and a component of many side projects that cover countless genres. During his set, he put the audience in awe with a diverse soundscapes. Sam Amidon, a folk artist who incorporates unexpected influences and a unique personality into his music, followed Cline.
After a short introduction by BBC’s president, super senior Greyson Sztuczko, Cline began playing, and he did not stop for about 45 minutes. Over this time, he utilized his guitar and several effects pedals to create a myriad of textures, timbres and musical environments. The whole piece was improvised, giving it a huge range of dynamics and feelings. “Some elements while not exactly ‘random’ are still barely controlled or only half-realized, half-successful, which can start a whole sequence of events unplanned and possibly unexpected—a combination of rescue operations and making messes to get out of messes….” Cline explained in regards to what goes through his mind as he plays sets such as this.
This approach to playing, despite the negative connotations that come with “messes” and the other descriptors he used, was highly intriguing to listen to because of the stream-of-conscious feel he provided. No one could guess what would happen next. He was then able to feed off this unexpectedness, creating whatever sound he wanted to next.
He also created hauntingly beautiful, elongated sections that were more based in developing a melody conventionally, like in most straight-ahead jazz. While these sections contrasted greatly with his walls of sound made of layered, ominous and abrasive effects, the transitions made sense to me because I viewed the collection of sundry soundscapes as a soundtrack to dreams and nightmares. Sometimes quick and jolting, and sometimes gradual and soothing, the transitions were always beautifully done, adding to natural progression of the piece. The dream-like world of sound Nels Cline created was an incredible one to be in.
Amidon’s set was much different, consisting of eleven folk songs peppered with humorous anecdotes between each song. For the most part, the concert was composed of Appalachian and Irish folk songs reworked by Amidon, but as the show progressed, more and more elements typically foreign to folk crept in. In a somber tune that dealt with loneliness, for example, there was a break where Cline and freshman drummer Spencer Tweedy faded out and Amidon improvised a dissonant solo on fiddle, quoting free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Based on the context of this genre, I was not expecting this or anything like it but was more than pleasantly surprised.
Amidon’s personality and connection to the audience was another aspect that made me enjoy the experience greatly. Between nearly every song, he talked about a variety of things, from his driver’s education instructor to spiritual experiences. Through being so open and personable with the audience, his connection to the music was stronger. “You have to look into the spirits of the audience members to receive some new power, which you then imbibe and send back out to them,” Amidon shared with me. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a musician that is not only extremely talented but also very genial and makes such an effort to break down the barrier between the musician and concert-goer.
Both masters of their crafts, Cline and Amidon created two very different musical atmospheres that the audience added to with their appreciation. With soundscape improvisations, unique folk and approachable kindness from both performers, this was a concert I will look back at with fondness for a long time.