Adrian Belew Power Trio at the Canyon Club
by Larson Sutton on April 11, 2017
For those wondering, the guitar hero is alive and well. He wears a black jumpsuit and a red baseball cap, and sometimes sits on a futuristic stool that resembles a spring-loaded cupcake, with a laptop by his side. He introduces himself as “Loretta” and punctuates the sharp stops that end most of his songs with a loud, “Woo!”
He’s a Beatles fan and an animal advocate commenting on men who hunt from helicopters in, what else, “Men in Helicopters.” He’s a veteran of progressive pioneers King Crimson and art rock luminaries David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Talking Heads. Now, he leads his eponymous Adrian Belew Power Trio, coaxing icy clean tones, piercing whammy-bar highs, delay-pedal orchestration, and even laughter from his six-string.
On this Southern California stop on his current world tour, Adrian Belew moves playfully and succinctly through two hour-long sets, dipping into a solo catalog that gives his phenomenal backing duo--bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph--plenty of wonder work, as well. It’s a flurry of limbs; Slick’s fingers deftly up and down the fretboard, while Ralph hammers away in polyrhythmic, often odd-meter, time on “Young Lions” or “Big Electric Cat.” And, there is much theatre of the abstract and the absurd, with pre-taped interludes between songs announcing train arrivals and indiscernible chatter.
“Do you like King Crimson okay?” Belew asks. “I do,” he answers, then blasts through “Dinosaur” and “Frame by Frame.” A drum solo comes surprising early- half-an-hour into the show. Belew refers to it as a “Tobias Ralph lesson,” and sits on the space-age stool, occasionally pantomiming the drummer’s runs. The three slip into a rock-and-roll riff, paying tribute to the late Chuck Berry, then shifting back to their manic, angular comfort zone, as Belew admits, deferentially, “We don’t play that music.”
The second act is notable for a mistake. The trio launches perhaps Belew’s most recognizable song of the night, “Three of a Perfect Pair,” only to have the guitarist forget the new arrangement and hit the brakes before the transition to the verse. He apologizes profusely, and asks, not rhetorically, if they should pick it up from the chorus. Someone in the crowd yells to start it over, and Belew agrees, tearing through a vicious, note-perfect rendition, complete with a mystery man in the wings of the stage providing vocal harmony.
Belew later nods to Bowie, on a beautiful “Boys Keep Swinging,” but it is the sublime, even silly, that reigns on soaring solo cuts such as “Ampersand.” He reaches the end and thanks everyone for coming. “I’m having fun tonight,” Belew says. “I want to come back here and do this again.”
He introduces his band one final time, and says he’s changed his name from “Loretta.” For those wondering where the guitar heroes are, maybe they are not looking in the right places. He’s right here, and his name is Adrian Belew.
Authors: Larson Sutton