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Nels Cline Singers belt it out at Largo

January 15, 2009 | 12:49 pm

It's safe to say at this point that no one approaches a guitar quite like Nels Cline.

Bringing a touch of the avant-jazz underground to Largo with the Nels Cline Singers, Cline at various times sawed at his guitar with a taut spring, screamed into its pickups with a toy megaphone and, most puzzlingly, let a baby-headed figurine "perform" atop of his howling guitar. Strange habits for some, perhaps, but perfectly normal for Cline.

Elevated a few years back from arts-district fixture to amphitheater hero after being tapped to join Wilco, Cline joked about conforming to one long set for Largo rather than the trio's customary and more jazz-oriented two ("This is a show, people"). But the Singers' occasionally unhinged explorations meshed perfectly with the venue's well-documented "anything goes" spirit.

Backed by longtime collaborators Devin Hoff on upright bass and drummer Scott Amendola, Cline veered from clean, fleet-fingered jazz to cacophonous noise-rock. The spiraling and supercharged "Cause for Concern" barely clung to the edge of hysteria, while the comparatively mannered "The Angel of Angels" showed the trio's compassionate side with a hint of Eastern influence. Most of the evening's songs were studies in contrast, mixing delicate, atmospheric passages with fiery, undiluted expression as each  player laid into his instrument with physical abandon.

Throughout the night, the lanky and elegant Cline cut an unconventional figure as the new millennium's guitar god, curling awkwardly against his beaten instrument or stiffening against it, as if something had gone horribly wrong and his body was absorbing all the electricity in the house. At the show's close, Largo's patron saint and perpetual special guest Jon Brion joined the trio for an unfettered take on "Something About David H" from the Singers' sophomore album "The Giant Pin." Fiddling with a synthesizer at the side of the stage, Brion bobbed his head as Cline staggered to his side and convulsed against the unholy sound from his guitar, willing Brion to follow him ever further into the unknown.

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Hasty and against-Largo-policy shot of the Singers in action. Credit: Chris Barton.