AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’d like to take a minute or two to express some heartfelt emotions. Yup, first entry back and I’m getting all mushy. But I’d like to thank all of my faithful followers who contacted me on my Facebook page and relayed their concerns regarding my absence from these sites. I have been, and to a lesser extent, still am, under the weather. I will remain classified as such until an exam later this month. I also want to thank a couple of new Facebook friends who convinced me that regardless of negative feedback, my opinion of the art form is the only one that should matter in my forum. Thank you Steve and Elliott.
I have a lot of catching up to do, so let’s get to it!
With the tumultuous past few months, I have amassed a large stack of new music begging to be exposed. It is over a year now since we did that big review of Adrian Belew and Julie Stick at World Café Live. Before that review, I attended the Power Trio show (with Eric Slick) also at the World Café Live. So this DVD is not unlike a trip back to the past for me. A quick history of this incarnation is, Adrian Belew did a guest appearance with the Paul Green School Of Rock a few years ago and discovered a talented rhythm section. The brother/sister team of Julie Slick (bass) and Eric Slick (drums). Having attempted to form this power trio with former members of the David Bowie backing band, it never seemed to gel for Belew until he recruited the Slick siblings.
Because of my initial experience with the Slick siblings in the role of rhythm section, the REAL Adrian Belew Power Trio will always (again, at least in my mind) be Belew, Slick and Slick. But Eric Slick has unfortunately, had other notions. Belew’s music has always been intricate. Since his days with Frank Zappa, Belew has been used to playing in intricate time signatures, doing strange things musically (as well as theatrically, the best guitarist in a WAC uniform ever!) and playing counter-part to Robert Fripp’s absurdist timings and tunings in King Crimson only sharpened his ability to create interesting and complicated music.
But music of this QUALITY takes time to brew. You can’t crank this stuff out as quick as Katy Perry can cover lame-o artists like Willow Smith. Yeah, I said it, and it is statements like these that bring me poor feedback. At this point, I’m bullet proof! Bring it!
My point is, Eric Slick likes to produce. To the point where he plays with any act from Zappa Plays Zappa to Dr. Dog to many more I have either forgotten or just plain don’t know about. Belew doesn’t produce as quickly as Eric Slick would want. So Eric Slick bowed out of the Trio, and Marco Minneman took his place, only to be replaced with new drummer Tobias Ralph.
This DVD features the Slicks backing what amounts to two Belews. Belew has perfected the “playing-against-a-delay-loop” method. The rhythm section plays a phrase with Belew long enough for Belew to loop his rhythm guitar part (at least) and then continues to play with the loop as Belew does what Belew does, making the guitar scream, whistle, cry, honk, wail and so on. It was recorded at the Leverkusen Jazz Festival in the festival’s namesake city in Germany in 2008. Let’s dig in!
First we have what is titled “Introduction”. A Frenchman in Germany announcing only Belew. You know, Ringo was in the Beatles too…
Immediately the trio launch into “Writing On The Wall” from Belew’s Side One. Belew’s falsetto is a bit beat. He is either ill or road weary. Now, complexity is one of the biggest guns in Belew’s holster as I mentioned before. But the Slick siblings are handling the intricate parts with carefree abandon. Apart from the one line lyric, the title line, this is a mostly instrumental tune. Given the arrangement, Belew has ample opportunity to solo on his custom namesake model Parker Fly with torturous mania. There is not a flaw in the performance outside Belew’s ailing falsetto.
Julie Slick is, as always, not only able but also shoeless.
“Ampersand”, also from Side One is next. Belew’s voice seems to have woken up as it is back to the usual great standard I am used to. This is germane as he is the only vocalist in this configuration, unlike the Bears, where Chris “Deathy” Arduser or Rob “Carol Channing” Fetters can relieve Belew of lead vocal duties from time to time.
Heated guitar solos punctuated with incredibly smooth drumming are featured on this take. The band as a whole is tight. Eric Slick is producing remarkably complex parts from a kit similar to the now-famous Ringo Starr set of Ludwigs. Snare, shell tom, floor tom, ride cymbal, crash cymbal, high hat and bass drum. Belew is playing harmonized parts and solos against a previously played looped guitar parts, filling out a trio to sound like a four-piece.
There is some video break-up before the cacophonous ending as a result of the bright lighting and analog to digital video conversion, or possibly the PAL to NTSC conversion. The song depletes to some pick scraping, after which Belew thanks the crowd.
Another issue I have is with the constant display of the broadcast identification letters at the upper right corner of the screen throughout the DVD. What can you do, copyright is copyright.
Then Belew strikes up the chords for the introduction of King Crimson’s “Dinosaur” from Thrak. But the arrangement is totally different from Crimson’s version. Those chords at the start of the song were the intro chords to the middle orchestral section on the album. Too bad as I miss the Roland Guitar Synth string section part used on the album, Em, G, C/B bass, C, G… Ahhh…
Julie interjects youth into the bass part, and Eric more than competently adapts a two drummer (one being Bill Bruford) part with casual ease.
A stop break in the second verse shows how much more free Belew feels with the arrangement as opposed to having a stern-faced Robert Fripp insisting on adherence to the recorded arrangement. For three people playing a song originally done by six players is amazing.
Another dead stop in place of the orchestral arrangement is ornate with a quick ascending and descending riff. Some good old fashion Belew rhino calls are heard. COOL! After a brief chorus and another cacophonous ending, the trio makes this song their own.
Eric is given leeway to flex a bit on the intro to the title track to the Belew solo album Young Lions. The solo would make one think they are breaking into “Indiscipline” from Crimson’s Discipline album. But no…
This is a more pop-style song than the other experimental, instrumental songs in the set list. Tribal drums are the order of the song. Thanks to Julie and Eric’s trance-like concentration, Belew is able to solo without the aid of a loop pedal to flesh things out. I myself am not a big fan of power trios. Usually when the guitarist solos, it sounds empty. All Belew did for this solo was reinforce the rhythm pattern with a note in time with the bass. The second half of the solo is augmented with a few milliseconds delay.
It sort os falls apart before the rejoined vocal but they get it together right quick!
Next is “Beat Box Guitar” also from Side One. Belew has a seat for this performance as, he once explained, for some songs, his feet are as busy working pedals as his hands are playing the strings.
Eric is flexing far more ability than a beat box could ever provide. Julie is thumb slapping the funk out of the bass. Some above-the-nut guitar playing intros a break down in the song. Julie is allowed a degree of flexibility as Eric breaks into a half time beat before the band explodes and contracts again!
These kids give Belew the license to express himself that he’s been looking for since his days as David Bowie’s musical director in the early 90’s. A red and blue stage light washes over the band as Julie punches up her delay pedal and Belew brings out the seagull patch.
Love the old sounds, animals, car horns, etc.
Belew calls out a count to cue into a break immediately into some more of that complexity I spoke of earlier, Julie looks more like a lead guitarist at one point, wailing at the top of the neck. The band falls back into the main structure except for Julie who walks her bass line like the family dog.
Even when Eric plays a straight four count drum part, it is tight and interesting. I HATE THE FACT THAT HE IS NO LONGER PART OF THIS TRIO!!!
As Belew once sang, “Well what can you do but laugh.”
The song returns to its riff and ends with a downward note bend.
Belew introduces the Slick siblings before starting into the distortion-bass heavy “A Little Madness” from Side Four Live. Julie is so cool, she dons a pair of shades.
She wears her sunglasses at night!
Belew lets into one of his manic solos and loops it so it sounds like Belew-squared. As a demonic grin erupts from Eric, I wonder why he has an empty cymbal stand beside his ride cymbal. Hmmmm…
To try to describe these tunes would require the readers and I to have doctorates in music, music theory, composition, electronics and more.
More video break-up inherent in European to US video translation.
There is definitely more music going on here than meets the eye. But just when you catch on to the ride, they know how to dead stop the Gamelan riffs.
What a band!
“Of Bow And Drum” from one of my favorite Belew solo albums Op Zop Too Wah is next. This is one of Belew’s more ‘accessible’ songs in that it almost has a standard structure as in verse-chorus-bridge. Yet it has enough of that trademark Belew complexity to keep it interesting.
Strobing lights during a searing Belew solo with Julie supplying hammer-on bass notes. These folks know how to use dynamic in a song.
“e” from the album e is up now. I reviewed this disc in its entirety previously. The staccato rhythm section plays as Belew enters ascending and descending notes into the loop pedal. He adds more lines to build a harmony in the loop pedal, then plays a chord progression on top of that all while the rhythm section maintains the mania. Just as the rhythm section seems complacent, Eric goes ape to intro what I assume is a break. All the while these ascending and descending notes maintain the commonality even though the live players stray from it more often than not. And when it is not present, they go back to the staccato rhythm with a staccato loop so Belew can solo over it. Eventually, Eric resigns to a beat and Julie holds the staccato rhythm.
Remember I said I thought they were going into King Crimson’s “Indiscipline” earlier? They stick the guitar solo right in the middle of THIS track.
Julie picks up the ascending and descending line before the song breaks into a more regimented ending. Crazed.
After another sweaty introduction of the players by Belew, we are lead into “Three Of A Perfect Pair” from King Crimson’s album of the same name. As opposed to the staid, English version that Crimson recorded, this version sounds more hard rock. Julie is making mincemeat out of Tony Levin’s bass part (as a chef, I hope Julie appreciates the analogy). Instead of the electronic drum parts Bruford provided, Eric uses power toms before they sneak in a line or two from “Frame By Frame”.
After a walk off, they return for another King Crimson tune, “Thela Hun Ginjeet”, like “Frame By Frame” from the album Discipline.
Belew extends his appreciation of the crowd and begins the frenzied F# chord strumming. The pre-recorded tape vocals come in late for Belew’s fire-alarm-style solo.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story of how this song came about, the story goes something along the lines of while recording his first album with King Crimson in the early 80’s (then the band was known as Discipline) Belew was under pressure to come up with lyrics for the track they were working on at the time.
To gain a clearer perspective, Belew went for a walk in the rather dodgey neighborhood where they were recording. During the stroll, Belew was confronted by thugs who were under the impression that Belew’s dictation into a hand-held tape recorder was him being a surveillance agent for the authorities. Upon explanation to the miscreants that he was in a band, working on ideas, after a clumsy excuse by Belew, the aggressive duo let him go and as fate would have it, Belew rounded the corner into the arms of two bobbies (English police).
Upon his return to the studio directly after the incident, a shaken Belew began to recount his tale of terror, but a devious Fripp had instructed the recording engineer to roll tape during the accounting of the events to capture Belew’s fragile, nerve-wracked mindset.
This tape vocal would wind up being the lyrics for Thela Hun Ginjeet, which is a jumble of the phrase ‘Heat In The Jungle Street’.
Now back to our program.
Julie embellishes the funk bass line. During the tape vocal, and with a wild solo, the rhythm track is stunted into a staccato and the solo eventually freewheels into an English police siren. Power notes during the end bridge bring the song to an escapist, fleeing anti-stop with power chord strikes and Belew providing a final downward note bend to end the musical portion of the show.
The trio take their well-earned bows and exit the stage.
This DVD is out there, and by that I mean it is not your father’s music. But die-hard Belew fans should have this. Having seen this trio live and then seeing this DVD, none of the performance values are lost, but it is far too short for my liking. But if it were three DVDs long, it would be too short for me. For those with a more mature, discerning taste, who just can’t get into Justin Bieber, or the current wave of Rebekah Black style wanna-bes, you just might find solace in some music for the intellectual.
Providing the Government doesn’t default and we become an overnight third world nation, I hope to be back with more reviews soon. As long as we are on this train of thought, no better time to review Julie Slick’s debut album than next time. Since I took all this time off, I may be producing at a rate quicker than ever attempted before.
Gotta get them out before the Chinese shutter all of our power plants when we default on our national debt obligations…
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