March 11, 2008

A Word on the Adrian Belew Show

Sunday night's Adrian Belew Power Trio show was tremendous. The set list was as shown on his website and perfectly amazing. Belew has spent a lifetime perfecting his craft and it shows. The videos on the sight tell the story in ways I can't put into words other than to say it was a thrill to not only hear Belew's legendary guitar but have the opportunity to see how he makes those sounds. You know, even after watching it at a close enough range that I could see every move of every finger, I still can't tell you. I'm nearly willing to put it down to magic.

It was the musical equivalent of watching an artist take a nuclear blast between his hands and sculpt it into form after form, ranging from soaring seagull to cudgel. Belew's sound can best be described as walking a thin line between order and chaos. The sound is too big, too protean, for one man to control it, but control it he does. There's nobody like Belew.

Belew's companions on the stage were Julie (bass) and Eric (drums) Slick, a couple of amazingly proficient kids whose combined ages are the same as mine and a bit less than Belew's. Nonetheless, neither of them had any problem adding their sounds to that of Belew's guitar. I was particularly impressed with Eric's mastery of the sometimes stuttering and frequently complex rhythms; it was easy to forget that this is a guy who is at the very beginning of what is likely to be a noteworthy musical career. I wish I could say I did anything as well as that when I was Slick's age — either one of them. All I can say about Julie Slick's playing was that by all rights she should have hands twice the size of those she possesses. She did much more with her bass than I'm used to hearing or seeing bass players do; she managed to coax sounds out of her instrument that complimented Belew's crazy, crazy noise.

Seeing Belew after so many years was an experience by itself. He certainly looks different than when I saw him play with the Talking Heads in the early 80's. He certainly looked to be having a good time, though. There was an infectiousness about his demeanor; by the end of the show, my cheekbones hurt from all the smiling. He exuded humor in his manor and his music. There were moments in the show where he produced riffs that literally made me laugh and these were accompanied by a glance at the audience that bore the look of someone who had just delivered the punchline of a joke. This was particularly so during Ampersand and Dinosaur. I can't say I've had the experience of chuckling over great guitar before; I may have laughed at a screw-up before, but never at sounds produced with such technical excellence and manifested intent.

The only downside to the show was the sound system at the Natick Center for the Arts. There were a few occasions during which it seemed like the system just couldn't keep up with Belew's power. The worst of this came during the Trio's encore; the sound got so muddy that I couldn't tell you what the song was. The set list on Belew's site lists Thela Hun Jinjeet; that's a song I've known for years and have on the MP3 player I keep in my car, but if that was the song being played it was lost on me. Belew has a sound that could fill any stadium, though, so it isn't too surprising that both the sound system and the walls at the Center for the Arts seemed ready to crumble at any moment.

Belew and Company have seven more shows to go in this tour, several of which are at small venues. The dates are on Belew's website. If they're not sold out already, go! Even if you don't know who the heck Adrian Belew is, it's worth seeing one of these shows to find out. You've never heard guitar like this. You've never heard anything like this.

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