Monday, March 17, 2008

Three of A Perfect Pair

INCOMPARABLE: Julie Slick, Adrian Belew, Eric Slick- Still Making Beautiful Music Together

The Adrian Belew Power Trio returned to Jammin' Java in Vienna for their second show in just under a year, this time at the very end of the tour and holding absolutely nothing back for their final SOLD OUT performance. From the opening notes of their first song, Writing on the Wall, to the last echoing feedback of Crimson-era compositions Neurotica and the autobiographical Thela Hun Ginjeet (wherein Belew, on tape loop, describes an ugly confrontation with would-be muggers in London), the band was even tighter and more practiced than their last trip. At the same time, this visit found them more relaxed and confident than ever, stretching their wings and experimenting, improvising, and building to wild crescendoes, only to stop on a dime and come back together in unison.

The capacity crowd was then treated to another intimate, intense performance, showcasing the material that is featured in the band's new release, the live "Side Four." The disc captures the sheer joy of this band as they give it their all, playing with reckless abandon and staggering musicianship, especially impressive for a bassist and drummer barely old enough to vote! As a good musician and close friend once observed, it's enough to make longtime players lock themselves in their rooms for months on end trying to learn the chops that Julie and Eric Slick demonstrated so effortlessly, or else make you throw your instrument down (perhaps in many pieces) because you know that you'll never be as good as they are if you spend every moment you have left trying...

Nonetheless, as a non-musician, I dwelled on the positive and inspiring side of that equation, wondering what new tricks (and perhaps which old favorites) Mr. Belew and Co. would have up their sleeves. And as always, I was not disappointed. Saul Zonana, co-producer of forementioned "Side Four", warmed up with his uniquely expressive blend of vocals and guitar, with songs that ran the gamut from Beatles-influenced pop (Mr. Blue, Midnight Rain, If I Don't) to more provacative and daring, edgier songs, using guitar loops and occasional drum programs for good effect. He too has used the last year to hone his skills, especially as a guitarist. I look forward to his next release to mark his progress as a songwriter.

The Power Trio played much of the new album, but also many favorites from Adrian's solo career (Matchless Man and Drive were standouts once again), as well as several of the songs he co-wrote as a member of King Crimson (Dinosaur remains among my favorite songs of all time, and their rendition of Three of A Perfect Pair was spot on). Naturally, the arrangements were different with a trio format, but none of them suffered for it. In fact, it breathed new life into some of the songs, propelled by Eric's furious barrage on drums (I have to wonder how many heads he must go through in a year!), with Julie more than capably playing Tony Levin's best licks, while adding some twists and more than a few original touches of her own. Afterward, she told me that she follows her brother's drumming and really plays off of him- and credits their amazing empathy and affinity that allows them to anticipate each other and flow in flawless precision. I don't think I heard a sour note all night- and I was listening pretty closely!

Other highlights were Adrian's transcendent solo on Within You Without You that has apparently become a staple, as Eric and Julie take a well-earned breather; Ampersand, which found the band tearing up the stage in glorious cacophony; and Big Electric Cat, a favorite from Adrian's first solo record, the ambitious "Lone Rhino," still luxuriant with the same innovation and whimsical charm that makes it's way into all the music that bears his imprint, 25+ years later...

So, the good news is: they're coming back AGAIN, to the Ram's Head in Annapolis on June 6th! Well? What are you waiting for?? 'Cause you KNOW that show will be sold out too-

And while you're at it, sign the petition to put this most deserving guitar hero in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame! The link is below- and it also contains a nice outline of Adrian's career, recordings, and contributions to the world. If they can induct Madonna (who has yet to do anything remotely approaching rock n' roll music) the least we can do is put this guy in there for all the great work he's done! (At least, as long as he promises not to play a guitar rendition of Like A Virgin when they honor him!)

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