Nels Cline & Julian Lage took to New York City’s SubCulture, a venue that plays host to neo-classical and jazz musicians, to celebrate the release of their newest album Room. The sold-out crowd enjoyed an hour and a half worth of forward-thinking, virtuoso guitar picking that rivals any other comparable music.
The collaboration between 58-year-old Nels and 26-year-old Julian is rooted in classical compositions by Cline, with a few of Lage’s composition sprinkled in for good measure. After debuting a couple years back, Room is the first legitimate release from the duo.
Musically, Cine and Lage are pushing the boundaries of guitar-based music, consistently blasting any preconceived notions you may have of the instruments. Let’s be clear: it isn’t exactly easy to keep a performance interesting without drums, bass, keys, etc.; just two guitars killing it.
While most of the performance followed a non-linear, classical style, they would give occasional glimpses in to what you might expect from Wilco’s songwriting process or Nels’ influence of the Grateful Dead. Folksy, bluesy melodic chords, that probably have all sorts of hashtags and exponents next to them, would act as the release of tension created by the clash of harmony and dissonance.
The two play off each other famously. Call-and-response moments and dueling solos, along with Julian’s glowing smile and Nels’ concentration, proved that these gentlemen have found a remarkable yin and yang combination.
Julian, with his white shirt, boasts a classical style, plucking nylon strings ever so carefully, as if reaching for perfection. Nels, on the other hand, was wearing all black, encompassing a grit – almost an anger – for the guitar. He is intense, experimental, and more daring than Julian. Together they are as good as chicken and waffles, PB&J, spaghetti and sauce…whatever floats your boat; this was every bit as tasty.
The subject tonight was the new album, Room. Lage joked that they were playing it note-for-note, a seemingly impossible task if you’ve listened to the masterwork of neo-classical guitar picking. As the night progressed, it became less of a joke and more of a reality that these guys are playing, if not the exact album that has been pressed to wax and uploaded to Spotify, pretty damn close to what is on Room in its entirety.
SubCulture played the perfect host to this project, as Julian pointed out later in the evening, “this is our favorite room for this project. It’s pretty perfect for us.” The 150-seat venue was so quiet that you could hear picks clacking against the strings and hitting the pick guard.
As far as the album goes, it is a late contestant for album of the year. From the jazzy “Racy” to the über-melodic portion of “Freesia / The Bond,” it is absolutely perfect through and through. It will take you on an guitar-driven adventure of emotion, from frantic disparities to blissful meditation. Leave it to the avant-garde Nels Cline and the less-than-half-his-age Julian Lage to bring forth such an exceptional piece of art. We can only hope that they do it again, soon.