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Adrian Belew

Live in Buffalo, New York, March 2008

Review by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill and Grant Hill

Adrian Belew: A legendary name, brought into the limelight by the great Frank Zappa, mainstay of King Crimson fame for the past 27 years, edgy contributor to Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, and The Talking Heads, session guy to countless others of nearly every modern musical persuasion, and intricate, creative band leader of his power trio,  lyricist and fine artist, and a  middle aged bundle of energy. Well, now that we defined him, we caught up with up  with Adrian Belew and his young bandmates,  virtuoso siblings Julie Slick (bass) and Eric Slick (drums), just after they rolled into Buffalo after surviving one of the worst blizzards in recent decades as the group made their way from Michigan through Ohio and on into western New York up the Lake Erie shoreline.
We were fearful of a poor turnout for the show at Buffalo's reknowned Tralf Music Hall due to the weather. But, this was Buffalo, the same city that had packed an NFL stadium on New Years Day to watch their beloved Sabres take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, no fears for the crowd. A respectable several hundred waded through the drifts to get to the show, with just the right number to get up close and personal with Belew's important music.

Adrian Belew took center stage precisely at 9 PM, with Julie Slick to his far right and Eric Slick to the far left. Belew was framed in his own little spotlight area by his unmistakable collection of uniquely designed guitars, samplers, sequencers, etc. Adrian Belew is one of those rare individuals who can actually sing while playing some incredibly complex material. He loves to add unique sounds and textures, string scratches, digitized mechanical sounds and recorded snippets of everyday life. An Adrian Belew concert takes pop culture and places it on center stage where his bountiful expression of performance art in music takes over. It is the musical analogy of Keith Haring colliding with Michelangelo and actually having the whole thing make sense.

The show featured songs from Belew's most recent, the live sequel to Sides One, Two and Three, appropriately entitled (are you ready?) Side Four. When Belew named his group "The Adrian Belew Power Trio," he meant just that. The Slicks and Belew simply take command of the stage, beginning to end. Opening with the powerful "Writing On The Wall," this was one of the most impressive musical openings we've ever heard at a rock concert. Tighter than a champagne cork, this music may well represent the champagne of the rock idiom itself. Edgy, creative, melodic, polyrhythmically complex, and with lots and lots of intelligent uses of space over time, when one listens to The Adrian Belew Power Trio it evokes the feeling of something truly ground breaking and fresh.We tried to recall similar moments of this type of experience, and we came up with the Chick Corea Elektric Band of the late eighties. We couldn't help compare Julie's playing to a young Victor Wooten, at least in intensity if not completely stylistically so. Eric sounds like a young Tony Williams. We don't deal out such compliments frivolously.Indeed, the Adrian Belew Power Trio is a prog rock band that crosses heavily into fusion territory and approaches its music like one of Miles Davis' bands. Belew creates a delightful symmetry to every song, or at least an aurally pleasing and balanced asymmetry.

The trio continued its aggressive assault with "Dinosaur," with Julie playing some mean bass chords underscoring Belew's accented guitar. "I am a dinosaur. Somebody's digging my bones!," sang Belew, always adding double entendre to the lyrical depth of the music, this extra richness to these well constructed songs being felt clearly. The audience seems to identify with Belew's catchy lyrics, and the words draw the listener in even more deeply. Another nice thing about all of these wonderful Belew/King Crimson compositions is the delightful lyrical intensity and interest that develops from the listener's perspective. The breadth and depth of each song is well felt, and  there are no solos that go on for 32 bars too long. No one musical idea gets beaten into the ground. The trio moves from section to section progressively, then back, then allowing some free expression room before perhaps modulating into something completely different. Yet every song is framed with a musical purpose, and this never gets lost.

All three members of this trio play such interesting stuff that fits together that one cannot help to shift attention from one musician to another. There is no time to be bored. Julie is aggressive, but not prone to overplaying despite using every part of the instrument. Likewise with Eric. One really gets a true sense of this in the number "Beat Box Guitar." This song is a classic in the making, as its 2006 Grammy nomination might suggest. The free section results in three different things going on, nothing like one another, but these pieces fit like a puzzle, and the resolution is incredibly well done.

The trio roared through its concert without a hitch. While we definitely had the impression that Belew was eager to have everyone get up and groove, the fact that this never really happened until the encore wasn't a negative reflection at all. Ears were riveted, and the powerful ovations heard throughout the evening reflected this.By the time the encore of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" opened, everyone was on his (or her) feet and bodies were pressed to the stage.

This was a powerful musical experience. We witnessed two young virtuosos blow the walls down with their seasoned mentor legend. The hallmark of the evening was not only the sophisticated playing, but the polished musical approach established top to bottom. One shouldn't consider himself a prog or fusion fan without taking the time to tip the hat to Belew and what his music has brought to the world. Talk about boldly going where no one has gone before! The Adrian Belew Power Trio rocks! Please check out Adrian's exceedingly interesting site at . And, please, get to a show! You won't be disappointed!

Sonya Kukcinovich
Sonya Kukcinovich
Sonya Kukcinovich
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at
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