Concert Review - Adrian Belew Power Trio
The Brother, Sister & Holy Ghost Show
Slim's - 2.23.2008
The first sign of dedication to the music of Adrian Belew I witnessed this night was seeing about 30 people standing in the rain outside of Slim's waiting for the box office to open. The next sign of dedication I witnessed was to hear how far some people travelled to see this show. One man I stood next to in line flew in from Kansas City. I overheard another say he came from Houston. And yet another said that she had driven from Tahoe, where she saw the same band's performance the night before. Once the doors opened the stage was immediately swarmed. People knew it was important to be as close to the stage as possible to be best able to scrutinize the mastery of guitar wizard Adrian Belew.
This was to be my third time to watch the Adrian Belew Power Trio perform live and I was extremely excited. It has been nearly 15 months since the last time they have been to the west coast. Well, I tell you, the wait was worth it. The anticipation combined with how much more excitable their musical skills have become literally blew me away this night. I knew it would be great, I just didn't know how great.
I wasn't moved to tears tonight the way I was at The Waterboys concert in October. And I didn't start to wander into a hypnotic mental trance the way I did last week at Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, but something else spiritual did happen to me during tonight's concert. I was standing face to face with POWER. And I don't mean that in a light or filial sense. When Adrian Belew walks on stage he comes out with POWER radiating out of him; out of his eyes, out of his smile, out of his demeanor, and it is undeniable that he feels healthy, but more so it was undeniable that he is happy and loved. I don't mean this in any sappy sense either. The guy, dressed subtly in dark brown, radiates energy (and confidence) like a god.
When his band mates come on stage they too are confident and grounded. And they are united. They are Adrian's "back & side men", sure, but they are more. There is something else going on here than just musicians playing music. If i hadn't heard this idea from Adrian himself I may not have gotten this deeper realization tonight. These "kids", Eric and Julie Slick are not just happenstance sessions players Adrian found that were looking for work. Eric and Julie are brother and sister who have been listening to and playing music together since they were small children. They grew up in a house of music lovers. They know each other extremely well and know how to read each other. Their unity together, and with Adrian, is uncanny and powerful. There is never a missed note or beat in the shows I have seen.
It's hard to isolate highlights of the night because the crowd knows the Belew catalog so well; he storms in with his own "Writing on the Wall", then King Crimson's "Dinosaur" then moves into his own "Ampersand" where he begins his first improv of the night. Improvisation is a hallmark experience of every Belew and Crimson show. The improvisations tonight seemed to be lengthier and a little more animated than I recall them being before. For one thing, Adrian stood and played more during this show than I remember from the 2006 shows. Still, the space he has to move about in is limited to a small circle due to the amount of distortion contraptions and pedals he is plugged into. Also being a photographer I'd like to see him have more space to bend, gyrate and hop around in, but still, maybe that is not really necessary.
Oh yeah, it's not really necessary because the barefoot dancing muse of the band is bassist Julie Slick. She is one to watch. I was strangely fortunate to be forced to take a position next to the stage on her side this night. My desire was to stand next to drummer, Eric's side of the stage thinking that it would be easier to photograph all members of the band from that angle. Well, standing in front of Adrian would have offered the best vantage point, but I digress. Julie is a magician when it comes to playing bass guitar. Or maybe psychic surgeon is a better description. The way she reaches into the instrument with her powerful and dexterous fingers to elucidate some of the most complexly written bass lines out there is genuinely phenomenal. If I were deaf but could sit and watch her play, I think I'd still hear the music, she dances it to life as if it were as simple as breathing.
Eric on the other hand, and side of the stage, who I could not see as closely, is rumored to be just as remarkably life giving to the music. Fortunately someone posted some video of him playing on YouTube and I was able to watch more closely how delicately yet equally powerfully he meets the needs of all the compositions that Adrian has written. He sits perfectly upright at his drum set - spine erect and straight but his arms wail away like a multi-armed deity on his drum set. He was sensitive, stoic, solid and grounded; immovable by any external distraction. And he looked only two places; at Adrian and at Julie. He truly is the anchor of the trio.
I got the feeling from the sophisticated audience that most attendees were long term Crimson listeners and technical guitar players, although there were new comers to the music as well. One associate of mine that I made at the Santa Cruz show in 2006 brought his 10 year old son to this show and there was a young woman in the show that embarrassed herself by calling out songs for the band to play, like Radiohead's Creep, thinking that they had been playing covers all along. There are so many incredible songs in the Belew and Crimson catalog that I wish they had mixed up the set list a little more this tour. Alas, time constraints of the three prevented them from even having time to rehearse before the opening show in Seattle. One new song that appears on the set list is Neurotica from the King Crimson album, BEAT was actually hard to listen to. There was a tape feed of a lot of the background elements that the band played along to and over and it came across screechy on the Slim's sound system. Regardless, the audience seemed hyper excited that it was added to the set.
Remarkably the concert ended at 10:40 pm, the earliest I have ever gotten out of a show at Slim's. It had felt like I had been immersed in a world of sounds that easily lasted three times that long.