Going to the show, I had no idea who was opening for Adrian Belew last night in Phoenix at the Rhythm Room. I only heard the guy at the door pronouncing the guy’s name to someone in front of us – “Like ‘banana’ with a Z . . . and an O.” As openers go, you usually don’t expect much, but Saul Zonana scored immediately with, admittedly, a completely meaningless thing – his guitar, a Parker Fly, and one of the most beautifully painted guitars I’ve seen in recent memory. Green with purple and red swirls, it was gorgeous. Luckily, he actually had something musically substantial to offer – Beatles-y rock filled with lots of great hooks and clever melodies (I even caught a bit of King’s X in his guitar tone – I’d be surprised if he wasn’t a Ty Tabor fan.)
Performing solo, accompanied by a drum machine and backing tracks, he got a surprisingly good response from the crowd and, in fact, I headed over to the merch table and picked up his latest album, Love Over Money, which is as good as I was hoping it would be, and very close to the live show itself. Check this dude out.
We weren’t but a few minute into Adrian Belew’s show when a hassler began his loud, possibly drunken schtick: “I’M A LONE RHINO!” This, from the very back of the Rhythm Room, was delivered over and over again despite absolutely no acknowledgment from the stage. After a few minutes, the guy gave up and moved on, away from us, at least, and everyone around us looked relieved. You’re a lone rhino, all right.
The guy wouldn’t be getting “The Lone Rhinoceros” tonight. Adrian Belew’s show hewed pretty close to the track listing of the recently-released Side Four Live (available only from his site, (signed) or (unsigned), but don’t take that as disappointment. While they may have followed a similar setlist, they broke out in different directions at all points, including a couple of very long jams that, admittedly, lost their way occasionally. The thrill was really just seeing his new trio in action. Belew is backed by the young brother/sister duo of Eric and Julie Slick on drums and bass, respectively, whom Belew found at the Paul Green School Of Rock. (See, kids? It really is cool to stay in school.) The two make a powerful backing for the wild exploits of Belew, who needs something solid under him to stay thoroughly grounded.
As Belew put it at one point, “It’s time for the difficult listening hour. Better put on your helmets,” then launched into the very appropriately titled “A Little Madness.” The power of this trio was best displayed here – Julie Slick laid down a huge bass line while Eric nailed an intense groove and Adrian whipped up a maelstrom, looping layer upon layer of squealing, twisting, turning guitar lines one upon another. When the insanity of the long piece was over, Adrian wiped the sweat from his face with a black towel, leaned in to the microphone, and said, “It’s over, we’re all safe.”
(Disclaimer: not from my show, but it’ll give you a good idea what I’m talking about.)
Not only did we get a heavy dose of the past few Side albums, Belew picked through his older material, delivering “Young Lions,” “Of Bow And Drum,” and a real crowd pleaser, “Big Electric Cat,” among others. Two new pieces were unveiled for us, one, the simply titled “E,” had only been played once before, while the other new one may not have even had a title, but Belew informed us that it was among material that the trio was working on for a new album. The trio closed out the show with a handful of King Crimson favorites that really got the crowd going, and it was a thrill to see and hear young Julie Slick nailing, once again (as on the live album,) Tony Levin’s epic bass lines. She looked like she was struggling, but it sure didn’t sound like it.
Belew, introducing Eric and Julie at ages 20 and 22, respectively, said, “Add up their ages and you get . . . ” as he pointed to himself, then, laughing, he joked, “You’re not falling for it, huh?” But it’s no joke that he’s acting as a bit of a father figure up there on stage. The show was thrilling not only in that I got to see one of my heroes doing what he does best, but also because I got to see him being so supportive of these young musicians. When the opportunity presented itself, he urged the two to step up and take a moment in the limelight. Drummer Eric seemed more eager to take advantage of the opportunities, jumping in with small solos and fills wherever possible, but Julie, with prodding, stepped up, laying down openings to tunes here and there, impressing everyone in the audience, garnering a huge response from the crowd at the end of the night. As one guy near me said, “She is a seriously awesome bassist.”
With King Crimson re-energizing for a short stint of active duty this summer with new second drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) on board, and hopefully some new material to come after that, Belew’s power trio will be on the back burner for a bit. If you want to see this band in action, get out and do so now. Belew has never been more on top of his game and, solo, at least, has never had a more energetic band back him. Unless maybe you’re that “LONE RHINO!” dude – he can probably sit them all out.