Sound Advice: Adrian Belew Power Trio with Saul Zonana (May 18)

Northern Kentucky-born guitar grandmaster Adrian Belew brings his trio to the 20th Century Theater

May 16, 2017 at 10:10 am

click to enlarge Adrian Belew Power Trio - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Adrian Belew Power Trio

Adrian Belew should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Northern Kentucky native’s career as a performer might be too under the mainstream radar to get him in, though you could make an argument that his influence has cast a pretty big shadow on the “Alternative” music of the past 40 or so years. The Rock Hall has inducted many musicians under the guise of the “Award for Musical Excellence,” which was formerly known as the “Sidemen” award. And if you don’t think Belew at the very least meets those qualifications, you don’t know much about the guitarist/singer/songwriter/explorer’s career.

Just a rote telling of Belew’s life in music would be a good read, but he’s recently been recounting stories from his past on his Facebook page that are so funny, thoughtful and engaging, an autobiography would likely be an instant musician-memoir classic.

After moving to Nashville in the early ’70s, Belew caught Frank Zappa’s attention while playing with a cover band, soon joining the iconic rocker as a touring guitarist. Though wildly proficient on guitar, Belew was (and remains) a true “artist” with his instrument, a remarkably adventurous player capable of conjuring sounds no one has ever heard come out of a guitar before. That mix of imagination and skill impressed other legendary, forward-thinking eccentrics; later in the ’70s, Belew joined David Bowie’s band, touring and appearing on the Lodger album, and in 1980 he began working with Talking Heads, contributing to the classic Remain In Light album and touring with the group.

Belew’s “sideman” roles could have ended there and his legacy would still be a crucial piece of modern music’s development. But like his playing, Belew has always pushed forward to new challenges. Belew joined iconic Prog Rock band King Crimson, — not as a sideman, but a full-fledged member — singing, writing and playing guitar alongside another artful guitar wizard, Robert Fripp. Belew got to show off his knack for melody and singing with King Crimson, something showcased gloriously on his underrated solo albums, which became grand exhibitions of his broad talents. Belew has some rare gifts; few artists are so radically inventive and game changing as an instrumentalist, yet also capable of writing beautifully crafted Pop-oriented songs. He further showcased his melodic side with The Bears, a band formed with Cincinnati music legends psychodots, which has been creating indelible Pop Rock off and on since the mid-’80s.

The rest of Belew’s career has been just as unpredictable and fascinating. His further studio work should also be considered when making the case for Belew’s Rock Hall credentials, having included historic albums like Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral and Paul Simon’s Graceland. The first film score he did was for Pixar’s animated short Piper, which won him an Academy Award this year. Always an embracer of new technology in music, Belew created an expansive app project called FLUX, which features original music and is described as “a creative toolkit for the next generation of musicians and sound designers.”

Belew’s current tour features his Power Trio bandmates, Julie Slick (bass) and Tobias Ralph (drums). The show begins with the trio playing music from his solo albums, plus some King Crimson songs and “touches” of Bowie and Zappa material. The second part of the show has Belew performing acoustic material from the FLUX app. The trio returns for the night’s third act, which includes parts of Belew’s symphonic piece, “e,” and finishes with a pair of King Crimson cuts.

The concert is a good sampling of Belew’s immense artistry — perhaps someone should send a few tickets to Cleveland for the gatekeepers of the Rock Hall.

Click here for tickets/more show info.