Some things you just know.
When I first saw the invitation to the Nels Cline, Larry Ochs and Gerald Cleaver Trio show at Gallery 5 back on November 10th, I immediately knew two things.
It would sell out and it would be a sausage-fest.
Before I got around to buying a ticket, a friend invited me to go with him, so I didn't have to, which was convenient since 30% of the tickets sold out the first day and 80% were gone a week out.
Once it sold out entirely, people turned shameless and began begging online for a ticket or two to see a guitar legend in such an intimate setting.
My friend showed up to collect me just as I was happening on a pop-up art gallery up the block, an effort by a painting student and a video imaging student to avoid what they called "the big galleries" of the Arts District and show their work. I gave them an "A" for effort and marveled at how they'd transformed a 3' wide space between buildings into a definitive gallery.
Well done, kids.
After a short walk in this unpleasantly and suddenly-frigid weather, we entered the overheated confines of Gallery 5 to find exactly what I'd expected: mostly men and likely a high percentage of guitar players and musicians in general, gathered to hear major talent play experimental music on a Friday night.
With my friend off chatting with other musician friends, I turned to the nearest guy and told him I'd expected an inordinate number of a certain kind of music geek tonight. "And here we are," the stranger confirmed to me, looking only vaguely sheepish.
A favorite film geek arrived and, in his honey-dripping southern accent told me, "I knew you'd be here," which I took as a compliment regardless of how it might have been intended.
Across the room, I spotted a jazz guitarist I've known for years and behind me was the guitar whiz who shreds in the Cover to Cover Band and walking in to my right was the mover and shaker/guitarist who grinned, started sniffing and gave me a raised eyebrow.
Leaning in so I could hear him, he observed jokingly, "It smells like pot in here and the show's just starting. How are we going to explain that if the cops show up?"
What did you expect, we've got a roomful of guitarists here, I pointed out. "Tell me about it. So we've got a lot of boners in here, too," he joked about Nels' guitar idol status. "And we've got a lot of middle-aged white men. They all texted me today about getting tickets, but how many white guys can you fit in a room?"
Looking around, I'd say a fair number, although there was also a decent millennial representation, even though, as one admitted, "I came to him late."
Nothing like stating the obvious, since Nels was probably 40 when you were in diapers, son.
Mercifully, I actually spotted a girlfriend with her cute husband in the sea of men, although she wasn't shy about admitting that she had zero idea what to expect musically tonight. Rather than dwell on the unknown, we dipped our toes in the estrogen pond in a vain attempt to balance out the testosterone-fueled energy in the room.
Once the music began, it was a different story since between the volume, the ever-shifting dynamics and the sheer spectacle of the musicians onstage playing, talk pretty much ceased.
Even more impressively, only a few cell phones came out to document the event. I saw an awful lot of people young and old almost entirely in the moment and not viewing it through a screen.
Part of that may have been because the set came across sort of like a master class, with all eyes riveted on technique - and not just Nels' because drummer Gerald was mesmerizing with his ultra-efficient economy of motion and Larry's sax/clarinet playing produced sounds I'd never heard from those instruments - as if they were trying to learn by osmosis.
Those of us who have no such talent and are mere fans don't have that kind of pressure on us, so I just watched Nels' hands fly as he stood erect and made circumspect guitar faces, sometimes twirling knobs and using his massive pedal board to coax additional sounds while looping them back for a bigger effect.
I'm not here to use terms like contrapuntal, harmonic concepts or odd meters (because I can't), but I would like to quote the Fredericksburg music lover I was introduced to as we were exiting Gallery 5. Asking for his take on the show, all he could give me was, "That was amazing!"
When I asked what amazing meant and made a request for words, say nouns and adjectives, maybe a verb or adverb if he had 'em, my friend interjected quickly with, "She expects a lot of words."
Not gonna deny it, I do.
But when the nearly monosyllabic one admitted that he needed some time to process what we'd just experienced, I felt much better about my evolving take on it.
Honestly, I'd felt a bit overwhelmed myself. Aware, yes, of the massive talent I was witnessing onstage but also challenged by the experimental nature of its structure and the free-wheeling flights of improvisation that often made endings seemed unexpected or sudden.
At times, it was hard not to be transfixed by the drummer's non-stop limbs as the other two soared around his rhythms.
One guy off to the side eventually closed his eyes and began zoning out to the music, at least until his hands started twitching and then he sat down, closed his eyes and seemed to go even deeper into a trance. Whether being dramatic or losing himself to the vibe, it was hard to say.
For that matter, it's also hard to say much more about the whole evening than that we witnessed some amazing musical chops and a lot of guys probably found release from it.
I've got it, that's what we'll tell the cops.