Adrian Belew Power Trio

May 12, 2017
Swyer Theatre - The Egg
Albany, NY

Review by David Gardiner
Photos by Stan Johnson

It was all about the fun with Adrian Belew at the Egg. Before he came out to play, one of his roadies did a pop quiz about his music, asking if we know about some of the work that he's done with other musicians such as Joe Cocker, Joan Armatrading, Herbie Hancock, Peter Wolf and Nine Inch Nails. His appearance on Paul Simon's Graceland seemed to stump the sold-out crowd and I somehow missed that one, too.

Like many of us in attendance, I discovered Belew’s talent when he was with Frank Zappa in the 70s; Sheik Yerbouti remains a favorite. It was Zappa who said Belew "reinvented the electric guitar," and this was quickly noted by many world-class musicians like David Bowie who hired him for his band while Zappa completed the "Baby Snakes" movie. Belew contributed greatly to Bowie's music, most notably on 1979’s Lodger. The Talking Heads were also friends, and Belew would often appear at their shows, and then eventually went on tour with them in 1980-81.

It was his tenure with King Crimson that got me excited when in 1981, Discipline came out. I loved the songs and embraced the change that took place with the new four-piece lineup. It was easy for Robert Fripp to recognize the level of skill Belew has for tonal expression through guitar technique. This band created the best music of the 80s as far as I'm concerned. Fortunately for the audience at the Egg, Adrian Belew Power Trio seemed closest to the experimental sounds of King Crimson.

The concert opened with "Men In Helicopters" and “Young Lions,” both from Belew’s fifth solo release, 1990’s Young Lions. Drummer Tobias Ralph’s DW drum kit was actually quite simple — five drums, three cymbals and a hi-hat — perfectly tuned and masterfully played. Bassist Julie Slick played a five-string and if she got paid by the note, she made a small fortune at this show. She has a style of her own as a pick player who produces a punchy growl, full of raw energy.

The syncopated rhythms between the players were amazing and they were clearly enjoying themselves. Equipped with his Parker Fly signature guitar and a nice array of hi-tech foot controls, Belew pulled out some truly unique and unusual sounds. He really seemed to enjoy singing David Bowie’s "Pretty Pink Rose," which is also on Young Lions. “Ventureland" from 2016's FLUX Vol.1 segued into "Big Electric Cat" from the 1982 album Lone Rhino, which turned into "d2," from the 2009 release with the Adrian Belew Power Trio, e. This is in the "math rock" genre.

Throughout the show, there was a distinct element of comedy, but make no mistake that this music is seriously groundbreaking, even by progressive standards. Each player took chances at creating new sounds, and the result was entertaining for everyone. Tobias Ralph's technical grooves and frequent use of the rims was extraordinary. Julie Slick's talent has been nurtured since 2006 when she was a student in Philadelphia and Belew spotted her obvious potential. She has had opportunity to play with other excellent musicians, including Stick Men, another offshoot of King Crimson.

Crimson’s "Frame By Frame" was dedicated to bassist Tony Levin, who was in the audience. Belew mentioned that the two played the song many, many times when they were both in King Crimson (Levin still is). The set closed with "Beat Box Guitar," which was nominated in 1995 for a Grammy in the "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" category.

After a break, they went into "b" from e, followed by a great version of Crimson’s "Three Of A Perfect Pair," then into "b3," another one from e. More Crimson followed, with "Neurotica" from Beat and "Walking On Air" from Thrack. Later, they took a stab at another Bowie song, "Boys Keep Swinging" from Lodger. It was energetically covered with an enthusiastic vocal from Belew.

"Of Bow and Drum," an interesting number from Op Zop Too Wah, made the cut before the show ended with two Crimson classics, "Elephant Talk" and "Thela Hun Ginjeet," which both really brought the house down. An encore of "e" was played with incredible ease and pretty much took the tops off of everyone's heads. Leaving the Egg, I realized Adrian Belew Power Trio is really something to see and hear.

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