No, not that BBC: The BBC. As in: tenor Tim Berne, drummer Jim Black and guitarist Nels Cline: an all-star outfit put together last year by Bethany for a live WFMU performance. Making their local venue premiere at The Stone last night (their only previous gig was at the Melbourne Jazz festival in May), Bethany and I got there just before cutoff for the 8p set. For over 20 minutes, the packed house stood or sat in near-silence, dripping pools of sweat until the boys finally took the stage in the corner of the rectangular, windowless room.
Once they got going, they played nonstop for about an hour: part experimental improv, part deep groove. Understandably, most folks were there to see Cline, fresh from his recent dates with Wilco. I stood less than ten feet from Cline and his array of pedals, and his playing was certainly impressive, vacillating between noisy distortion and the fine picking of a jazz master. But, it was Berne who drove the bus, his bass honks and violent squeals interspersed with sparkling jumps up and down. Ultimately, Berne launched the group into an ecstatic build, his soaring tenor met by Black's driving, syncopated drums. Then, just when it felt like the heat-fueled crucible was about to explode, they pulled back into a slow, spectral fade that brought the set to its quiet conclusion. An experience both hazy and unforgettable. (More pics below.)