dimanche, octobre 02, 2005

Adrian Belew

Belew electrifying at Guitar Fest


CONCERT REVIEW : Adrian Belew. Friday night in the Tralf.

It's fitting that Adrian Belew brought his killer new trio to the Tralf for the prime-time Friday night slot in this year's WNED Buffalo-Niagara Guitar Festival. He is, after all, the most exciting and consistently inventive electric guitarist of his generation.

He has one of the most impressive resumes in rock, with time logged serving artists like Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, David Bowie and as a full-fledged creative leader in King Crimson for some two decades now.

Oh, yeah, the guy is one of hell of a singer-songwriter, too.

Belew's ample gifts were in full evidence before a packed Tralf. This was the opening night of his tour behind the recently released gem "Side One," but it was also the debut performance of the new Belew trio, composed of Belew on guitar and vocals, Mike Hodges on drums and Mike Gallaher on bass. To say the trip blew the roof off the place is understatement. In fact, this is likely the finest band, bar Crimson, that Belew has ever surrounded himself with.

Hodges is familiar to longtime Belew fans as the drummer on the "Mr. Music Head" and "Inner Revolution" tours. He also joined Belew as part of the massive David Bowie Sound & Vision tour of 1989. Bassist Gallaher is a jazz guitarist from Nashville, whom Belew persuaded to give the electric bass a try. We should all be glad he did. Gallaher blew jazz lines like a maniac, but also created an ample pocket with Hodges, and to serve the song, rather than the ego, throughout. These guys know Belew, and they know his idiosyncratic, eclectic and consistently brilliant music.

There was plenty of nervous energy in the air, as the band launched into "Writing on the Wall," a slice of prog-funk from "Side One." Belew has chosen the lightweight, multipurpose Parker Fly as his current guitar of choice, and with four Line 6 amps wired in stereo behind him, his tone was both out of this world and rooted deeply within it.

No other guitarist - save perhaps Belew's mentor, Zappa, and his current partner, Crimson's Robert Fripp - ever conceived melodic lines in the manner Belew does. What seems zany and flashy on the surface is more than a dazzling display of technique; Belew's extensive solos never abandoned their musicality.

"Dinosaur," from Crimson's "Thrak" album, brought a roar from the crowd, and in its stripped-down trio arrangement, lost none of its majesty. "Ampersand," another "Side One" track, is handled by Primus bassist Les Claypool and Tool drummer Danny Carey on the record, but Hodges and Gallaher took it even further outside, and there was some incredible ensemble interplay bringing smiles to the faces of the musicians and audience members alike.

"Madness" was just that - an instrumental improvisation kicked into interstellar overdrive by Belew's blend of musical wit and soulfulness. The title song from the late '80s effort "Young Lions" was another highlight in a show full of emotional peaks.

Throughout, Belew sang with clarity, emotional investment and what seems to be a nigh-on-perfect sense of pitch. His songs, as ever, are based in the melodic and harmonic inventiveness of later-period John Lennon, and he is able to bring to them a sense of the daring musical invention that marks the best progressive rock. That makes him one of a kind.