ADRIAN BELEW POWER TRIO dazzle local fans at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club. .
(photo credit: KYLIE BEN TABAI)
No matter what they were playing Wednesday night at Tel Aviv’s Barby club, the members of the Adrian Belew Power Trio were smiling. This may seem like a random fact to mention, but it was crucial for the show since musicians playing this kind of music often seem to take themselves way too seriously.
The trio is Belew, who plays guitar and on many songs also rhythm guitar through a pedaled loop effect, Julie Slick on bass guitar and Tobias Ralph on drums. Belew recruited Slick and her brother Eric in 2006 when they were still students, younger than him by a generation. Eric Slick has since moved on to drum for other bands and was replaced by Ralph.
The establishment of the trio echoes the beginning of Belew’s own career.
He was 27, playing in a cover band when Frank Zappa offered him a job.
Belew was a “stunt guitarist” – as a kid, he listened to records and, unaware that players used guitar effects, learned to copy many of these effects without using pedals; as a result Belew is one of those guys whose guitar playing is its very own subgenre, often making sounds you would not guess actually came from a guitar.
He then played with David Bowie, succeeding Robert Fripp as Bowie’s lead guitar player. Not long afterwards Belew and Fripp joined in reviving Fripp’s old band King Crimson.
Belew played in the second incarnation of Crimson for more than 30 years.
And so when he established his own band, Belew already had a very deep back catalogue to draw upon for material.
In Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the band relied heavily on King Crimson material and, of course, on the trio’s own original music (they have so far released one instrumental album).
Belew sings on some of the tracks, and while his voice is “not what it used to be” as the rock cliché goes, it’s still strong and hardly roughened by the years.
He was smiling practically throughout, in some places even laughing.
Songs like “Frame by Frame” and others from the Crimson 1980s catalogue were treated as templates for improvisation.
Belew relished the effect some unsuspected abrupt breaks had on the audience, who seemed to mostly know the original Crimson songs by heart, and in this sense the whole concert took on the form of a game: What is he going to do to that song? Slick and Ralph are both virtuosos of the first order. Slick, as her name implies, closely follows Belew’s avant-garde, angular playing without missing a beat and Ralph – well, apparently he played the Tel Aviv show after nearly breaking his arm the day before and had to use a mild anesthetic to be able sit at the drum set. Let’s just say one couldn’t tell; the man is a lightning bolt.
While the band’s attitude was playful, their playing was anything but.
Close your eyes and at times they sound like a quintet or sextet. Ralph in particular plays polyrhythmic parts as naturally as other people chew gum.
The set list was dense, song chasing song with hardly a break. Some pieces segued into each other to create 20-minute long instrumental compositions.
This is another reason the band’s attitude was so important.
Belew seems to remember his first mentor Zappa’s very matter-of-fact, business-like attitude to rock concerts: People came to be entertained, they paid to be entertained; make sure they have a good time. I certainly did.