Press > Review By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
While the murmur of chatter and clinking silverware can often be intrusive when you’re trying to appreciate a musical performance, local acoustic guitarist Kinloch Nelson’s appearance at Bodhi’s Cafe Saturday night proved that technical skill, subtlety, and dinner ambience can work together exceptionally well. Of course, with restaurant gigs, the whole point is to enhance the dining experience. But Nelson (his first name rhymes with “in-law”) achieved something far beyond background music, and he did so with the utmost discretion and good taste. As the night went on, Nelson’s unaccompanied guitar seemed less like a mere instrument and more like a fragrant, reassuring breeze bringing harmony and vibrance to Bodhi’s Asian-themed decor.
Now approaching his 40th year as a player, student, and teacher of the fingerstyle guitar tradition, Nelson’s chops become evident pretty much as soon as he starts playing, even when he holds back as he did on Saturday. “Badass” might seem like a strange term to apply to a guitarist with such refined technique, but there really isn’t a better word to describe the sheer scope of what Nelson can do. And certain aspects immediately distinguish his playing. For one, there’s the grace and fluidity with which he applies those chops. Next, there’s the fact that Nelson’s appearances usually don’t center around classical guitar per se. His repertoire, in fact, spans a breathtaking range, and by applying classical finger picking and his own signature stamp to folk, jazz, and a dizzying gamut of genres, Nelson has crafted an irresistible format all his own.
At Bodhi’s, he veered gently from one piece to the next, often starting out with simple harmonics that would casually materialize into familiar songs. He worked his way from a darkened (his description) rendition of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” into a lustrous take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun.” At certain moments—such as when he played a gorgeously drawn-out version of the classic instrumental “Sleepwalk”—a still silence fell over the dining room. Approximating the original version’s iconic steel-guitar slide with his own technique, Nelson captured the tune’s bittersweet, postcard-like sense of nostalgia and, in some respects, brought an even more mournful quality to it.
In more traditional venues, Nelson engages in stage banter and tends to display his skills more. But, restrained as he was somewhat by the setting, his music had an even more powerful impact. Normally you have to find a way to tune out the sounds of a dinner crowd in order to concentrate on such delicate music. But in the way each accommodated the subdued tones of the other, Nelson and Bodhi’s seemed to go together perfectly.
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