In 1958, Fender moved to court more serious guitar players when they unveiled their Jazzmaster guitar to the world. Namely the company wanted to appeal to jazz musicians with their new release, hoping to get it into the hands 50s greats like Herb Ellis and Tal Farlow. Jazz cats never warmed to the axe though and instead it fell into the hands of teenagers and surf/rock bands like The Ventures who played a large part in popularizing the instrument. While popularity dipped a bit in the 70’s it came back into fashion during the 80’s and on a warm autumn night at the Knitting Factory a group of some of it’s greatest players assembled.
The youngest group on the bill, Edison Glass opened the show and the oldest performer, Tom Verlaine played next. When Sonic Youth duel axmen took the stage you could hear a pin drop; or more precisely you could here a transistor radio picking up frequencies as the duo of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo scratched and squeaked while seated on stage. The twosome gained steamed as the one continuous song rose, so did the players standing up and twisting the sound, Ranaldo put his Fender in front of his face, contorting the noise, and Thurston jumped and strummed up a storm. The noise/jazz crescendoed before the two thanked the crowd, walking off after about a half hour of playing.
Nels Cline was up next and the painter Norton Wisdom joined him on stage. Cline mentioned they would inspire each other, and that for tonight “Imagination is the key.” What followed was an interesting experiment with Cline mining loops and feedback along with trance-like repetition while Wisdom created multiple paintings on an illuminated canvas, before wrecking them to start again from scratch. Perhaps capturing each one for posterity may have allowed the crowd to reflect back on the set and journey they just took, but the music and the art lived and died in the moment.
J Mascis set up 3 stacks of Marshalls and the night went from mellow to rocking in .5 seconds. Along with his fellow Fog mates the excellent, Dave Schools on Bass and furious Kyle Spence on Drums, the trio ripped the night asunder. Playing some tunes off of both More Light and Free So Free, as well as some later day Dinosaur Jr. they blasted the crowd with rumbling beats and deafening power. Ears are still surely ringing from the set that the crowd ate up; after a night of ambiance everyone in attendance was geeked to hear some serious shredding. The encored version “The Lung” inspired a happy ruckus, and while people may have been hoping for a noise guitar power jam (which was not to be). Nights like this that prove with six strings, a piece of wood, pedals (and, to aptly quote Nels) “a little imagination,” you can do anything with a guitar.