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Stick Men

Live in Buffalo, New York, October 2011

Review by Grant Hill

The excellent “Two of a Perfect Trio” tour was a well-publicized and equally well received series of concerts featuring the bands of King Crimson legends Tony Levin and Adrian Belew.

King Crimson fans and a multi-generational audience packed the hall to standing room only. I gradually moved forward from the very back row until I was conveniently front and stage left by the time the encore was performed. Every song was well received to thunderous applause. It was interesting to hear the trios back to back just to notice the subtle nuances and differences in style and technique despite the common King Crimson tradition through the ensemble.

My overall impression was that both Stick Men and the Adrian Belew Power Trio played and sounded just great despite some equipment issues. Sound check had run late and Levin’s amp had blown, among other inconveniences to the bands.

Nonetheless, the opening was taken with authority and control, Levin’s Chapman Stick driving the ensemble along with fellow King Crimson mate Pat Mastelotto on drums and Austrian touch guitar master, Markus Reuter, on his self designed instrument. “Vroom Vroom” was the first song, cello patches prominent in the beginning statement. Pat Mastelotto drove hard in 6, and the song established an effective use of diminished chords and creative contrary motion by Levin. Reuter’s sound was clean and I was impressed with his touch style. I paid careful attention to Mastelotto’s extremely creative fills. “Soup” is constructed around hard-edged modern rock chords. Levins groove was edgy and heavy. His vocals were catchy in a semi-derivative, almost rap form over a neo-hip hop drum ride. It’s a cool song!

There were other highlights in the Stickmen set.  “Slow Glide” began with Levin’s vocals, jungle jazz percussion, and touch guitar chords. I enjoyed the funky free space jam section, and the overall layers and textures. The Robert Fripp composition, “Breathless,” was very clean and well executed. Mastelotto’s traditional sound and hard rock groove made me smile. It was very seventies and retro, edgy and polished. I enjoyed the Ginger Baker style accents. The advanced chordal playing was impressive, and there were great polyrhythms. It had a very catchy vibe.

A free improvisational piece eventually made its way into “Relentless.” The song began with cathedral chimes and god, dynamic phrasing. This song presents a very rhythmic groove and superb syncopations by Levin.

Finally, the trio closed the set with their arrangement of all movements of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. The haunting arrangement emoted the essence of the orchestral original, and I thought the difficulty level was both high and well conceived. Levin’s bowing on the Stick was very, very good. It was a great piece.

It would certainly have been enough to watch the just mentioned performances without the supplemental set, but what an incredible treat the closer set was. King Crimson band-mates Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and Pat Mastelotto took the stage for “3 of a Perfect Pair,” “ Elephant Talk” and “Sleepless.” The packed house had remained glued to the nearly aural perfection of the evening. Reuter joined the trio for an outstanding rendition of “Red.” Both bands took stage in ensemble format for “Thrak,” “Dinosaur,”  “One Time,” “Frame By Frame,” “Indiscipline” and the encore finale of “Thela Hun Ginjeet.”

The key word that came to mind during the final set was “energy,” clearly of the more dynamic variety I would say. The high level of communication between the Crimson trio was evident immediately, and as the expanded ensemble took shape on stage through the set, the fullness of sound and complexity of both melodic and harmonic relationships were truly extraordinary. When Tobias joined the ensemble in “Thrak,” the intricate double kit unison evoked the deepest of primal emotions.

This was one of the finest concerts I’ve attended in this century. I believe this particular tour will stand as one of important historical note, and represents a triumph for both bands, King Crimson, and the entire progressive rock community.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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