Sunday, October 09, 2011

Stick Men and Slick Women - continued

So here's something I bet you thought you'd never see...a crazed Arnold Terminator competition between drummer extraordinaires Eric Slick and Tobias Ralph.



There's a history behind that. When Eric was still with the trio, there were long, ten hour drives some days and to break the monotony, Eric, Ade, and Julie would launch into various comedy routines. I am happy to say that Tobias has totally filled the void and he's also a brilliant drummer. Check out his interview in Drumhead Magazine this month. It's pretty special.

So Eric and I trained it up to NY last week for the Stick Men, ABPT, Crim-centric show at the Iridium, which was so much cooler than BB Kings where the ABPT has played many times before (and the food way better, too)...and man, those bands owned that place. The bartender came over after the show and said to Tony Levin, "I've worked here four years and that was the absolute best show I've ever seen."

Seriously. The music is ridiculous. You know I have to post all the reviews and blog blurbs I found so I'm warning you in advance. In my humble opinion, this tour is indeed a beautiful tribute to Robert Fripp, but it's also a lot more because he knew how to pick musicians and they are doing him proud with wild and innovative music influenced by the Mighty King but also quite different in its own right, too. I know the effect his and his bands' music had on Julie and Eric growing up, and how it shaped them as musicians and as people and it was pretty major.

So yeah, Eric and I had a blast, and as usual, I'm not allowed to say anything about the freaking amazing things going on in his life, other than he is presently on a plane to LA with the rest of Dr. Dog where they are on a top secret mission. All I can tell you is, everyone in America will know soon enough. It's just crazy what those boys are up to. When I finally am allowed to tell you all that's going on, it's pretty jaw dropping. By the way, if you click on the link to Eric's website above, you'll see that he's added some amazing artwork he's done recently.

Back to the show. It was an awesome night and it was cool to see Eric and Ade joking around like old times. Our only regret was that we couldn't hang out all night afterward but hopefully the opportunity will arise again. I am really considering one of these shows - hey, I'll hop a plane for even one night - if Eric is up for tagging along...cos' you know, this is pretty damn sick and I lifted it right off Danny's website:


Seriously, with all due respect to Eric, Marco, and Tobias, how freaking cool is this going to be? My daughter playing with Danny Carey of Tool. As my son tweeted, "I moshed to him when I was 13." And as one of his friends tweeted back: "Didn't we all."

I'm talking myself into hopping that plane as I type this. How can I miss seeing at least one of those shows? Arghhh...must.find.a.way.....

Okay, as promised, here are some nice things I've found on line about the tour, and my beautiful daughter, of course, about the shows so far. There not even half way done, so if they are coming to a city near you and you haven't make up your mind about going, maybe this will seal the deal.


King Crimson will not be appearing tonight!”

…proclaimed a recorded sample of Robert Fripp’s voice as the Stick Men eased into a roaring performance of Smudge (if one can use ‘eased’ and ‘Stick Men’ in the same sentence at all). So, I guess even Fripp didn’t escape being present in some form tonight, I thought, while adjusting my “FRIPP” baseball cap that I purchased from DGM a few months ago. I was in the audience at the Mod Club in Toronto for another excellent date of the Two of a Perfect Trio tour, and it was near the beginning of a great night that I thought I’d share my thoughts on with all of you.

However King Crimson already made a musical appearance, as the Stick Men began their set with a rendition of VROOOM VROOOM, setting the tone for the evening and getting the whole audience smiling and cheering. Even before the show started at this relatively small (couple of hundred person) venue, I felt a very good vibe – unlike King Crimson concerts proper, which usually play at 2000-seat theaters here, this felt intimate, with the audience packing the house but not spilling out or going nuts. As I showed up to the venue, I was greeted by knowing smiles – this felt more like a secret little family gathering than a trumpeted “PROG ROCK LEGEND” concert, with most in attendance being in-the-know enough to know the beast hiding behind the mostly-unassuming AB Power Trio/Stick Men label. It was a much more relaxed, less expectation-laden atmosphere than KC shows, I thought – with some credit definitely due to honest advertising of the show as not some grand reunion tour, but two bands + special encore.

The Stick Men were great as always – aside from the pieces already mentioned, they also played a stomping, hilarious rendition of Soup, Slow Glide, and the full Firebird Suite. And of course the talk of their set this time – Breathless from Fripp’s Exposure. Yes, it’s as good as everyone says it is, and the faithfulness of this trio’s recreation of it is pretty startling. It’s like Stick Men were actually transported back into 1979 and secretly put it on Fripp’s record, returning to 2011 to play it live with the very same feel. Tony was in top form, standing out especially with his crushing groove on Soup. Markus fit right into the band – last I saw them, Michael Bernier was still the other Stick Man, but Markus is just as comfortable in the same shoes. Comparing the two, Markus seems like the more experienced but also more reserved player – perhaps it’s his Crafty background, or the stereotypical German exactness, but he really struck me as an incredibly professional, disciplined, well-tempered musician with a great sense for appropriate, non-flashy play rather than fireworks. He kept a calm composure throughout and covered quite a lot of ground – including Fripp’s role in many Crim pieces, more on which later. Pat, on the other hand, was a real madman behind the drumkit – grinning the whole night through and trashing about with both unexpected percussion (including squeaky toys) and grooves that had all the subtlety of massed cannon bombardments. The Stick Men continue to strike me as a band where both Pat and Tony look mainly to do musical mischief – pushing things a little over the top, but having a lot of fun doing it. The middle break of Slow Glide, for example, stretched on a bit long this time, I thought (last time I saw them play it a year ago, it was more haunting and to the point) – but you can’t say no to it when the guys on stage seem to be having a blast holding a captive audience in their ambient playground. At the end of the set, Tony created what was probably the quickest rush to the merchandize stand I’ve seen by mentioning that he was coming out to sign items in a moment. Great timing for marketing! True to his word, the Stick Men made their way into the crowd during the 15-minute break between sets and mingled with the happy crowd. The overall response to their set was great.

After the break, Adrian and his crew made their way onto the stage. An adoring response erupted for Adrian from the moment he appeared, and was more than returned by the star of the show – honestly speaking, I feel like Adrian was really the happiest person in the building that night. I think from his perspective, this was as good as it was gonna get in lieu of a real 80s Crimson reunion, and he was having the best time of it all. He looked great, too – last time I saw him, I couldn’t help but think that Adrian had really aged when he walked on stage (only to look at least a decade younger within 15 minutes of playing guitar – startling transformation really) – but on Tuesday night he looked and played in top form, start to finish. Sounded great, too. The Power Trio covered a good amount of ground too – Neurotica appeared, in a rendition that I thought wasn’t entirely to Crim’s level (to be fair, I think that piece is a little more than a trio can chew), but nevertheless performed with a lot of fun had by all. Bow and Drum plus Young Lions covered Adrian’s old materials – again, lots of fun and an almost punk twist on them, but here I think Adrian’s power-electric sound and Julie’s crushing base were almost too much for these poppier, simpler pieces. Then Power Trio pieces proper – Beat Box Guitar, Madness, and e. This is where the band truly comes into uncharted territory of great musicianship. I was surprised just how much Beat Box Guitar and Madness continue developing – they’re not new pieces anymore, but they sound more and more interesting every time I hear them played. E is a demon – even Crimson proper would have trouble squelching that beast, but Adrian’s got it all figured out by now. I think he practically flattened the audience with it, and when it ended the response was indeed pretty uproarious.

On the musicians – Adrian’s great, he really needs no comments. He’s continued working on his Power Trio sound over the last few years, and has really brought in a fuller, heavier tone than one might hear on most Crimson records. He still stands out for playing the WHOLE guitar – not just strumming his way happily while pushing the frets, but really bringing every inch of that instrument into some sort of productive sound making. His use of loops and other effects is natural and casual – he really needs to get that whammy bar tightened up though! (It kept escaping his grasp and twirling about at particularly frenzied moments). Tobias, like Markus in the Stick Men, struck me as a well-tempered professional rather than showman – although some of it, surely, is because of inevitable comparisons to the crazed monkey-man Pat. He showed some good improv chops later on as well. Julie is truly a mistress of her instrument – proving that she has nothing to prove later on in the set while sharing the stage with Tony. Her playing is hardly derivative of TLev or Les Claypool whose shoes she originally filled, and her sound commanded a lot of my attention even in the double trio. She’s a technically-outstanding young player – and the latter quality, being young, actually stands a lot to her advantage. She’s not jaded by any particular style of playing and plays prog with ease (like it’s the simplest and most natural thing ever), while having no trouble at all filling even the simpler Belew-pop songs with unexpected licks. But even more importantly, she does it all with a lot of confidence – that’s a quality I love in a bass player, and there is indeed nothing tentative about Julie’s grooves.

So with the Power Trio taking their bow, it was now the promised encore time (after a short break). First it was the Pat-Adrian-Tony trio. I don’t think I can quite adequately relate the feeling of joy of seeing Adrian and Tony on the same stage, singing the chorus to Three of a Perfect Pair together. Perfect indeed! No, this really was a kind of family gathering. Elephant Talk followed, and was probably the best live version of it that I’ve heard. Then Markus came on stage, and Red followed. Again, probably the best take on the piece that I’ve heard. Then the rest of the set… what magic! Frame by Frame, One Time, B’Boom-THRAK, Dinosaur, Indiscipline, Thela – I don’t even know where to start.

Perhaps one of the best compliments I can make here is that what was being played was not just careful recreations of good ol’ pieces, but really live music in the best sense of the word. I loved hearing the new take on One Time especially – the piece matured a lot, and Adrian and Markus reached into some interesting territory for it. Dinosaur in a double-trio rendition is THE way to hear that piece – too bad the middle break was cut, but the band screeching to a halt a second time to let Adrian do some roars and howls on his guitar more than made up for it (the Power Trio also does Dinosaur like this, but the added weight of 3 more players only makes this pause more striking).

Some comments on the earlier shows complained about Tony hanging back too much in the double trio, but to be honest, I saw no such issue in this show – Tony only held back a couple of times, and in those cases (e.g. One Time, Frame by Frame) I thought it was more than appropriate – for the rest of the pieces he was more than fully engaged, though it was definitely interesting to see him playing mainly bass (rather than the stick), yet focusing more on soloing – Julie held the primary groove for many of the pieces.
The longest intro ever accompanied Indiscipline – but Adrian’s infectious playfulness with the vocals on that song had the audience going as always. Thela came as the final encore, and so it ended. But the biggest question, of course, was what was present and absent that evening… Was it Crimson? Could it be, without Fripp?

My answer would be as follows: a certain element was certainly missing from the puzzle, namely Fripp’s intensity and spontaneity. His ability to pull unexpected sounds from thin air in even the most calculated of pieces was definitely noted – but really the only piece where it was apparent to me was the improv portion of THRAK. Elsewhere, other remarkable players, particularly Adrian, Markus and to a lesser extent Tony, more than filled the gap – where Fripp’s parts were primarily functional (for example the background passages on Frame by Frame), the exacting Markus Reuter’s playing was up to the challenge. Where Fripp’s role as musical glue in the band is concerned, the musicians didn’t seek to reassemble the pieces in the same Fripp would’ve – instead settling on their own instincts and resolutions. Fripp’s absence was also, in some sense, enabling. Last time I saw King Crimson in Toronto, an air of tension hung over the concert – emanating from the audience as well as Fripp’s painful responses to the performing situation he obviously disliked. Back then, in 2003, I posted a comment noting that although the musicianship was great, it felt like something was truly amiss, that I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disappointment – in other words, that the show was professional, but never found its wings and joy. Robert replied to my comment in his diary, noting that even a purely professional performance was hard to achieve these days, confirming my own impression that he, too, was disappointed with the situation. But this time, there was no such sense – and I have no apprehensions of this nature about it all. Fripp was not there – but the show was more than professional, it was full of pure joy and the energy of the audience and the musicians was decidedly different, meeting in the middle without any real inhibitions. Requests for photographs and autographs were met with enthusiasm; requests for songs weren’t even yelled out because the audience’s expectations were managed by a clever, honest promotion campaign for the tour – and the setlist of the special encore hit the right note with the audience and the musicians alike.

By Fripp’s own definition, King Crimson is not the “Robert Fripp Band”, but rather a particular way of doing things and energy available to a certain group of people in a certain situation. With that in mind, I believe that King Crimson did indeed appear that evening. And it was good to see an old friend alive and well.

To all those of you still in the path of the tour, go and see it!

**********

Concert Review: “Two of a Perfect Trio” Fairfield, CT



“Two of a Perfect Trio” featuring King Crimson members Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto
Date: Friday, September 30th, 2011
Venue: FTC’s Stage One in Fairfield, CT
Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

As King Crimson’s Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto took the stage at FTC’s Stage One, a keen observer of detail in the audience decided to point out “Hey!! You’re missing your Fripp!” However, from the first note played to the final closing bows, the crowd that gathered for this stop of the “Two of a Perfect Trio” tour were enthralled and mesmerized with all-things Crimson (and many things non-Crimson) even if Robert Fripp, the ever-esteemed founder of one of progressive rock’s most heralded bands, wasn’t the master of ceremonies.

The “Two of a Perfect Trio” tour was conceived of during the “Three of a Perfect Pair” Camp, a week-long music camp that took place in mid-August that allowed its campers – musicians and non-musicians alike – to learn from and hang out with Belew, Levin and Mastelotto. The resulting show allows two trios Tony Levin’s Stick Men and the Adrian Belew Power Trio to each perform a set, and concludes with a third “Crim-centric” set in which various combinations of each trio’s members perform together.

With bass guru Levin on the polyphonic Chapman Stick (as well as his trusty Music Man 5-string electric complete with his patented “Funk Fingers”), Markus Reuter from Innsbruck, Germany on a custom “Touch Guitar” of his own design and drummer extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto delivering a solid funky beat interlaced with a myriad of electronic percussive sounds, the Stick Men set the tone for the three-hour show with a mighty roar in the form of the instrumental “VROOOM” from King Crimson’s 1995 album “Thrak”. The trio then dove into a number of Stick Men originals and concluded their set with an improvisational rendition of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite”. Despite Reuter’s stoic stance throughout the band’s entire performance and Levin’s sometimes goofy lyric and semi-spoken lead vocals, all three “Sticks” were clearly enjoying themselves and never failed to deliver virtuoso performances and music that, while progressive and complex, was always accessible and – for one particular audience member – reason enough to put on her buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-boogie shoes.

Adrian Belew and the other two members rounding out the “Power Trio”, longtime bassist Julie Slick and newcomer Tobias Ralph on drums, began their part of the show with a sampling of Belew’s solo work (including “Young Lions”, “Beat Box Guitar” and “Of Bow and Drum”) that had much more of a pop music feel than the thickly-layered and sometimes semi-schizoid songs that King Crimson are well know for – although the trio did manage to sneak in the seldom-heard “Neurotica” from King Crimson’s 1982 album, “Beat” which served to remind the audience that they aren’t just a trio – they’re a POWER trio. As was the case with the Stick Men, Belew and company closed their set with a long-form instrumental piece, a section from Belew’s “e”, a five-part suite that Belew performed in tandem with a full orchestra in Amsterdam earlier this year.

With her long curly hair and bare feet, the Power Trio’s Julie Slick revealed that she can lay down a serious bass groove that perfectly accompanies the extensivearray of bending, swirly and occasionally aggressive sounds that Belew can deliver via his signature series Parker Fly guitar. Drummer Tobias Ralph delivered all of the goods and then some. Taking the place of Julie’s brother, Eric, for this tour, Ralph positioned himself behind a fairly simple drum kit (at least in comparison to Mastelotto’s) and pounded out rhythms and beats that would make former King Crimson and Yes uber-drummer, Bill Bruford, envious.

The much-anticipated “Crim-centric” final portion of the show opened with Crims Levin, Belew and Mastelotto doing spot-on renditions of latter-day King Crimson tunes such as “Three of a Perfect Pair” and “Elephant Talk”. Other players from each trio joined in to accentuate other powerhouse Crimtunes such as “Frame by Frame” “Thela Hun Ginjeet” and the always-blistering “Red”. Even the ballad-esque “One Time”, featuring a subtle yet powerful solo vocal by Belew, managed to work its way onto the set list.

But the defining moment of the show happened in the improvised back and forth drum duel that prefaced Belew’s lyric in “Indiscipline”. Instead of the serious and somewhat cold super-precision that was at the core of the battle between Pat Mastelotto and Bill Bruford when this song was performed throughout the 1995 “Thrak” tour, Mastelotto and Ralph brought a whimsical and humorous quality to their bombastic exchange of phrases and licks that would rarely (if ever) be seen at an actual King Crimson show. As Belew exclaimed at the end of the song with arms outstretched in a Rocky Balboa-esque stance, “I LIKE IT!!!” As did all who had assembled in the Court of the Crimson King."

*********

"We walked in right at 8, and Stick Men were already on stage and playing. Originally comprised of ex-King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and Tony Levin and Michael Bernier on Chapman Stick (hence the name Stick Men … get it?), Bernier moved on and was ably replaced by Marcus Reuter on touch guitar. During the 45-minute set of their own material, Levin let the cat out of the bag. After their set, the Adrian Belew Power Trio would play a set of their own stuff, and finally everyone would converge on the stage for the King Crimson set. Holy crap, a Crim-head’s fantasy! For their finale, Stick Men played a piece from their Soup disc, four movements from The Firebird Suite. Igor Stravinsky never sounded so good.

Then the Power Trio. Adrian Belew was accompanied by Julie Slick on bass, and replacing her brother Eric on drums was Tobias Ralph. Belew commented that Julie was “really slick on bass.” Nice play on words, Ade, but she wasn’t slick. She was ferocious. She kicked ass, pure and simple. I hadn’t listened to much of the Trio’s material before, but after last night, I need to become more familiar with it. The phrase “power trio” really sums up their approach. Both bands, but especially the Power Trio, were short on lyrics and heavy on instrumentals … magnificent instrumentals from virtuoso musicians.

Next up … Belew announces that he, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto (three three former King Crimson band-mates) will, for the first time ever, play as a trio. And they launched right into Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair. The Crimson material never stopped after that. A couple more tunes, then Marcus Reuter returned to the stage and they launched into Red, a blistering guitar-focused instrumental. Then the rest of the Power Trio came back on-stage and we were treated to a reincarnation of the famed Double Trio, with two drummers, two bass guitarists (well, sometimes it was one on bass and one on the Stick), and two amazingly talented guitarists. Interestingly, although Levin and Belew introduced the songs for their respective bands, not a word of introduction was spoken during this part of the show. We Crim-heads didn’t need to be told what they were playing.

Interspersed among spirited renditions of such classics as Frame by Frame, Elephant Talk, Neurotica and Indiscipline, they snuck in Conundrum, their mind-blowing drum duet. Finally, the double trio went through the “end-of-set-walk-off-the-stage” drill until the ceaseless applause brought them back for the encore. It could only be one song, I thought. And I wasn’t disappointed, as the first notes of Thela Hun Ginjeet brought me to my feet. Oh yeah.

I’ve got a collection of Crimson concert recordings spanning 1982 to 2009. Deep down in my heart of hearts, I’d worried about Belew and Levin getting older and less nimble, about Belew’s voice giving it up. But they were in top form, their performances as dazzling as ever.

Throughout the show, I was in a state of nirvana. Throughout the show, I felt the physical impact of the music, the bass thudding through me, the sonic assault enveloping me. I was at times vaguely aware that my wife was sitting across the table from me. And, as her tastes in music tend more towards Jimmy Buffett and show tunes, I fear it will be a cold day in hell before I get her to join me for another concert."


Note from our author: That is so sad! But it cracked me up. That is why I am glad I am not dating. You used to be able to sum a person up by looking at his/her CD or album collection on the first date. Ah, the good old days, when you'd flee the room from the sight of Abba or Styx. Or in my case, U2 or Aerosmith.

Continuing on, and I am no longer so OCD that I feel I have to correct every poster's typing and grammar/spelling - I know people use iPhones now and this is the new English...sigh...but hey, say something nice about my daughter and I don't care if you use crayons and...never mind :)

"i didnt want to babble too much after the show , but i also wanted to say how much i enjoyed the performances . it seemed very easy going , and humorous , but the musicianship blew me away . i was moved during dinosaur and again in one time . Julie has gotten even better since the last time i saw her , how is that possible ? your new drummer , well at first i was skeptical , but i really loved the different things he added , where do you find all these fantastic drummers ? . Tony and Pat what can i say , except it was a treat and i am really impressed with Pat's ability . i never enjoyed those KC songs as much as i did that evening . what a thrill , and i am so happy that you were able to do this tour . seeing Tony's band was such a special bonus , what a great show."

"I had the immense privilege to see the double trio shows in both Phoenixville and Buffalo. I can report that there is NO PAINT left on the walls of either the Colonial or the Tralf. Fused hair on three-quarters of the departing audients. Any of you out west who are Crimson lovers, take a drive. You will not be disappointed. That having been said, Adrian's trio once again blew the doors off both places. And, I ended up enjoying the Firebird both times, much to my surprise, as I love the ballet in its original guise. Stravinsky was a fire-breathing metalhead, and we never quite knew it (though Tony probably did--I think he played under his baton, if I remember right).

Julie is a fire-breathing monster with the Lakland in her hands. It was interesting and wonderful to see Tony made to sound elegant and sophisticated (which he is anyway) in contrast.

What I wanted to say, but did not have time to stay for (two hour drive and work the next day), is a huge thank-you to Julie, and all six of these incredible musicians for giving us this opportunity to hear them. It takes so much work and preparation, not to mention bravery, to play such difficult stuff for us. When I hear music at this level, I always feel like I received much more than I deserved for the ticket price. Thank you, Julie. Please pass this along to the others, if you have the chance."


There are also a couple of great interviews in connection with the tour. Here's one from No Treble Magazine and the always brilliant Innerviews.

Also, Tony Levin is keeping a daily journal of the tour, complete with photos of Julie cooking for the band (whole 'nother story which you can read about on her blog but yeah, Tony's is something special and you start here and just keep on clicking - he's up to page 8 I think.

Okay, I really need to do this on a more regular basis. It's getting harder and harder to keep up! But between Julie, Tony, and me, and the stuff trickling in from Eric (oh, wait until November!!!), it's all good.

One more thing - I will be at the Push to Publish Writer's Conference at Rosemont College on Saturday. Just mark it on your calendars. I'll be back to talk that up in a few days, complete with linkage.

Later,
xo

2 comments:

William Bashor said...

My wife and I saw the Annapolis performance at Ram's Head. The date escapes me. We were both amazed.

Being a musician myself, I found the whole group of performers that night to be a powerful inspiration.

Lobster11 said...

Thanks for the extended post, Robin. Please keep them coming -- especially for those of us who don't follow Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Have you decided yet whether to fly out West to catch a show or two? Tempting, eh?

Lee (the Taller and Handsomer One)