When you see two concerts within days of each other, it’s hard not to draw some comparisons. The contrast is striking. Wheres Dan Bern hit the stage with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica, The Adrian Belew Power Trio had a truck load of gear. The stage was full of synthesizers, monitors, and god knows what else. I’m not a musician or a tech head so I can’t help you there. Belew’s Apple laptop was front and center though. He frequently played and recorded guitar parts, which would then loop around and he and the band would then play over the loops.
By my count, this was the eighth time I’ve seen Adrian Belew in concert: five times solo and another three times with King Crimson. He never disappoints. The man is a true original. He’s literally the first person to ever play music like this. Part of what he does has been copied many times in the past twenty years or so. I’m thinking of Primus and Nine Inch Nails and their ilk. They’re fine bands but to my ears, they only capture the industrial, ear splitting side of this music. If that’s all it was, it wouldn’t hold my interest for long. Belew has that side but he deftly mixes it with a very strong sense of melody. Add on his tremendous vocals, which are still as strong as they ever were, and you have a very potent, powerful mix of music. There’s a huge amount of heart and soul in his music and I can always hear Belew’s love of The Beatles shine right through.
It reminds me of those great RUSH lyrics:
All this machinery
Making modern music
Can still be open-hearted
Not so coldly charted
It’s really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah your honesty
It’s funny, ever since I started this blog, my thoughts at the concerts I see are mostly about how I’m going to write about them. I’ve been tempted to bring a pad and paper to shows with me to take notes and maybe keeps track of set lists but, you know, that may even be too nerdy for me.
If you were paying attention to music in the early 80’s, Adrian Belew was everywhere. There he is playing with The Talking Heads. Oh look, there he is on Fridays, singing Elephant Talk with King Crimson. Hey, did you see Belew singing Big Electric Cat on Night Flight? I’ve always thought of his music as “futuristic” in some way. Strangely, songs like Big Electric Cat and Young Lions, for example, still sound that way to me. They’re not dated at all.
If you’re a King Crimson fan, you’re familiar with the dramatic shakeup in the Crim world that occurred in 2015. After 35 years(on and off, admittedly), Belew was not asked to participate in the next incarnation of the band. Robert Fripp said he was reforming the band but wanted to play the ’69-74 repertoire, which he did not feel Belew would be right for. I have mixed feeling about this. First and foremost, it’s a dick move. I don’t know how you do that to your band mate and collaborator of 35 years. On a musical level though, I think Fripp was probably right. I was lucky enough to see Crim on their first American show with the new band, in Albany, NY in 2015. It was one of my all-time favorite concerts. If I’m being truthful, I’d have a hard time picturing Belew singing and playing those songs all night. On a selfish note, I’m sort of glad this happened because now there are two touring outfits and twice as many chances of seeing this music played live.
Early in the show, Belew asked the crowd if they like King Crimson. Of course, we all yelled out. He responded by saying, ” I used to like them too” and then “I feel like Rodney Dangerfield”. Belew is a very passionate guy and has always worn his heart on his sleeve, frequently interacting with fans on Facebook and other parts of the internet through the years. The breakup with Crim clearly cut him deeply and I don’t think he’s quite over it yet.
So, what did he play? They did two set. Since I didn’t take notes, here’s what I remember: Men in Helicopters, Big Electric Cat, Young Lions, One Time, Dinosaur, Heartbeat, Frame By Frame, Three of a Perfect Pair, Ampersand, Thela Hun Ginjeet, Elephant Talk, e. I’m missing a few songs but there’s most of the set.
At one point, Belew said that the show was being simulcast throughout the world. I thought he was joking but as it turns out, the entire show was on Facebook Live. I wonder if that’s why he made that Crim comment?
Belew is the only performer I’ve ever seen who smiles throughout the show. He’s having a hell of a time up there.
His band is tremendous. We sat in the front row. Literally a foot from the stage, and were right in front of bassist Julie Slick. Her fingers were blurs, moving so fast. Again though, it’s not just about the number of notes played. There’s a lot of soul to it. Drummer Tobias Ralph was on the far side from us and was tough to see. My Prog music companion, friend and neighbor Bon, was loving the drummer. He was clearly talented but I know nothing about drumming so I’ll defer to Bon.
Speaking of Bon, we were joking that our wives would have chewed their own legs off to get away from this concert. It’s been my observation throughout the years that in general, women do not like this music. As with most Crim related shows, there was only a handful of women in the crowd and a bunch of old, bearded guys like me. In fact, that was the big joke when I was in line for the men’s room at intermission. It’s a rare show where the guys have to wait in line for the bathroom but there’s no waiting for the ladies room.
The Tralf is still a fantastic venue to see a show. The sound is perfect and it has great site lines. I’ve seen so many shows there over the years(Ray Davies, Richard Thompson, John Hiatt to name a few)but last night was the first time I’ve been there since the 2009 Belew show. It seems like the bands I like which used to play there have migrated to other venues like Babeville and the Town Ballroom. The same doorman is still there. He’s been there for 30 years, at least.
I’d guess the Tralf holds about 500 people and there was probably 300-350 people there. Buffalo has always been a regular stop for Belew and I hope there are many more opportunities to see him in the future.
There were many highlights but my favorite performance of the night was Thela. It ain’t for the faint of heart!