Two of a Perfect Trio: Tony Levin's Stick Men, Adrian Belew and 'King Crimson Finale' at the Iridium
A few days ago, I caught another very cool show at The Iridium on Broadway and 51st Street here in Manhattan.
It was the opening night of a two-night visit by Tony Levin's band, Stick Men, and the Adrian Belew Trio.
I went with my comrade, Brian Thornton of New Jersey, a major fan of the whole Levin / Belew / Robert Fripp / King Crimson universe. In fact, he and I saw Fripp perform downtown this past winter; it was one of his solo "Soundscapes" shows, and it was peaceful, tranquil and ethereal.
Totally unlike the Levin/Belew show at Iridium.
Levin's Stick Men kicked things off with their heavily syncopated grooves. The band -- Levin on the Chapman Stick and occasional vocals, Markus Reuter on a touch guitar he designed himself and the great Pat Mastelotto on drums -- ran through a powerful set that included "Speed Bump," "Supercollider," "Relentless" and "Breathless," from Fripp's Exposure album (All of these song titles could be used as descriptive adjectives for the set's many peaks and valleys).
I'm not gonna make it sound like I knew all the tunes Stick Men played that night (I basically know Levin as that really tall guy at NAMM -- also as the bassist on John Lennon's Double Fantasy album), but that didn't matter; the playing was ridiculous. They're one of those trios that makes you understand that there are so many levels of musicianship -- and these guys are way at the top, looking down -- smiling, perhaps -- at a bunch of folks like us.
And if you've never seen Levin play the Stick, check it out on YouTube (or just watch the video above). He's taken it to such a high level that the Stick website refers to him as a "Stickist." I'd ask for a better nickname if I were him ...
After a short break, the Adrian Belew Trio took over.
I met Belew at NAMM in 2010, and he's a nice, normal guy. At NAMM, I said, "Hey, you're the guy who played on that Talking Heads tour" (I like to bring up random things from people's careers; if I were to meet Paul McCartney, I'd say, "Hey, you're the guy who played drums on "My Dark Hour" by Steve Miller."), and he was talkative, friendly and crazy-normal. The same regular guy was onstage at the Iridium, performing in a white T-shirt and joking between songs. He even threw a pie in drummer Tobias Ralph's face, which is a very normal thing to do, I'm told. On bass was the immensly talented Julie Slick.
Highlights of Belew's set included "Young Lions" and the super-dynamic "Of Bow and Drum." The man knows his way around a Parker guitar, and it was nice to hear Belew stretch the ol' vocal chords.
If you've payed attention, you noticed that I've mentioned three members of the current (if such a thing exists) lineup of King Crimson -- Levin, Belew and Mastelotto. And, as luck would have it, these guys took the stage as a trio, kicking off a King Crimson Finale that built to a supergroup including all the musicians from both bands.
The set included "Neurotica," "Red," "Thela Hun Ginjeet," "Three of a Perfect Pair," "Elephant Talk" and "Frame By Frame" -- but my personal favorite was the ultra-catchy "Dinosaur," which is still stuck in my brain, trying to get and dig some bones.
My friend Brian -- remember him? The King Crimson fan? -- made it clear that this was a unique and decidedly awesome show.
Me, I was just happy to soak in some beer, eat a pizza and catch a rare glimpse of something very much akin to King Crimson. I hear an actual King Crimson sighting is as rare as a dinosaur these days.
P.S.: I used a photo, above, from Levin's website, which was shot by Levin himself; if you'd like to see more of his photos from that night, check out his tour diary right here.
Damian Fanelli, the online managing editor at Guitar World, has performed around the world as a member of Mister Neutron, The Blue Meanies (the New York version) and/or The Gas House Gorillas. He loves anything associated with Quebec, which is why he's really into Godin and Richmond guitars at the moment.