Adrian Belew and his signature Parker Fly guitar (photo courtesy All About Jazz)
Toiling in the Trumpocalypse trenches, I needed an infusion of hope. At Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, the Adrian Belew Power Trio infused me with a critical 10 ccs of rock-ass joy.
Alongside decades-younger five-string bassist Julie Slick and lightning-fast Tobias Ralph on drums (sideways at stage left), Belew blissfully shared his virtuosity, and his continued influence on modern music. Solo opener Saul Zonana provided offstage harmonies.
The self-taught guitarist elicits a glorious array of sounds from his fly Parker Fly guitar, a gorgeous, quirky, lightning bolt-looking silver instrument, built specifically for his unorthodox uses and interfaces with synthesizers (he often starts songs with a phrase, which he records, then loops, then plays over, which is fucking awesome).
With gleeful abandon, the 67-year-old bends the neck, taps and scrapes the strings, and commands the whammy bar like no other practitioner, sometimes sitting on a bouncy mushroom seat in order to more fully work his magic, holding and rocking the Fly like his baby. (He noted that he broke not one, but two, strings during this show, the only time on this tour, so this audience received a double dose of axe-tacular acrobatics.)
Belew’s signature licks are showcased through work with the worlds’ best artists, including Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, King Crimson, Cyndi Lauper, Nine Inch Nails, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa and even William Shatner.
Wearing a definitely non-MAGA red baseball cap with matching crimson shoes, Belew and crew gave the intimate, engaged sold-out crowd an energetic two sets, plus an encore, of new songs and classics.
“So you like King Crimson?” he asked.
“I used to,” he joked, before launching into that classic trio’s “One Time,” meaningful today as ever:
One eye goes laughing
One eye goes crying
Through the trials and trying on one life
One hand is tied,
One step gets behind
In one breath we’re dying
The band also killed the exquisite harmonies and fretting in “Frame by Frame” and the vocabulary lesson that is “Elephant Talk” (from Discipline, where, of course, Belew pulls pachyderm-ese from his guitar), plus “Three of A Perfect Pair” (eponymous album), and Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” from 1979’s Lodger.
Nobody coaxes sounds out of a guitar like Adrian Belew, whose voice also remains clear and soaring after decades in the biz. Recently, he scored the Pixar film Piper, which won the 2017 Oscar for Best Animated Short.
“My buddy and I were eating at a diner after that,” Belew said. “He told the waitress that I had just won an Academy Award. She said, ‘Do you want bacon with that?’”
So he remains humorous, and humble, as he underscores in his 1998 song “Dinosaur”:
When I look back on the past
Its a wonder I’m not yet extinct
All the mistakes and bad judgments I made
Nearly pushed me to the brink
It doesn’t pay to be too nice,
It’s the one thing I have learned
Still I made my fossil bed
Now I toss and turn
I’m a dinosaur, somebody is digging my bones.
That would be me, Adrian. Consider yourself deeply dug.
Adrian Belew played at the Old Town School of Folk Music on April 1 – visit their upcoming concert schedule.
Belew and his trio are touring the US and EU through May 2017.