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Live Review: Adrian Belew at City Winery • Chicago

| July 26, 2022

Adrian Belew


Adrian Belew

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

City Winery, Chicago, IL

by Steven Kikoen

Gallery photos (at Arcada Theatre) by Jeff Berger

Adrian Belew is the sonic equivalent of an M.C. Escher lithograph. Escher created impossible visuals, Belew creates impossible sounds. He is the ‘flux’ capacitor that makes guitar wizardry possible, and his importance in the music world cannot be overstated. John Lennon “imagined” a world without borders, a life without the things that separate us. Belew imagines music without borders – music that in all of its sophistication, all of its intricacies, all of its simplicity, and all of its genre-crossing, is really all just one thing. It’s Belew.

To fully understand what 320 lucky beneficiaries received on this evening in Chicago, one has to look back to Belew’s auspicious beginnings in Nashville, Tennessee, some 45 years ago. His band “Sweetheart” was performing at a Nashville nightclub in the ’70s when none other than Frank Zappa – looking for his own post-gig hang––walked in to check out the group. Belew’s subsequent invitation to join Zappa’s band was baptism by fire. His music education multiplied exponentially throughout his year with Zappa, only then to be catapulted into the worlds of David Bowie, Talking Heads, and a tumultuous cup of coffee with Tom Tom Club, all within a relatively short period of time. These experiences ultimately prepared him for his dream come true: When a call came in from Robert Fripp telling him that he and Bill Bruford wanted to start a band with him. After all, King Crimson had become Belew’s absolute favorite band just a few years earlier.

Adrian found his own voice by reinventing the guitar as we had known it. He is arguably considered by some as the heir apparent to the legendary Jimi Hendrix. When Hendrix’s  “Star Spangled Banner” was performed at Woodstock, he elicited never-before-heard sounds from his guitar. Adrian took what Jimi had started and took it to its logical next step. Animal sounds. Industrial noises. Otherworldly sound effects. And by the fourth week of rehearsals with the new “Discipline” band (renamed later as a new version of King Crimson), Belew realized that he most definitely needed to bring what was now his trademark sounds into Robert Fripp’s ensemble, effectively making this new 1980’s incarnation of Crimson the most iconic – by not abandoning his unique sonorities but having them live side-by-side with Fripp’s fast-paced multiple-note exercises. The resulting new Crimson, which sounded like Balinese gamelan music on steroids – coupled with a rock and pop sensibility – was amazingly accessible, and Belew’s powerfully emotive singing voice and songwriting prowess sealed the deal. This was the King Crimson that would remain the most successful and the most prolific of all its incarnations.

Elevator is Belew’s latest album and his 25th solo album release. It was conceived, rehearsed, and recorded during the Pandemic shutdown. It was given the name “Elevator” in the spirit in which it was intended – to lift and elevate people’s state of mind when the shutdown had brought such isolation and inactivity to light. Elevator is most definitely a feel-good album, peppered with equal parts proficiency and humor. Belew wrote the music and played all of the instruments himself, with the only other person involved being his recording engineer Miles Fuqua.

The concert was structured into 3 sections over two sets. The first segment of set one consisted of nine Belew-penned songs played by this remarkable trio that features 16-year veteran bassist Julie Slick and the newest member, 27-year-old Johnnie Luca, on drums. Slick and Luca provided the perfect canvas for Belew to paint on and paint with. This opening section was followed by an acoustic set of seven more Belew compositions. After an intermission, the closing set included Belew’s Power Trio songs and instrumentals encompassing a mixture of King Crimson and solo material that brought the audience to its feet several times.

Highlights began early on with Belew’s arrangement of The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” where Adrian more than effectively covered both Harrison’s and McCartney’s harmonic guitar lines on his one guitar, not an easy feat. “Men In Helicopters,” with its slight nod to a Talking Heads vibe, was a most welcome addition to the setlist, followed by “Big Electric Cat,” with its infectious rhythms and trademark guitar sounds which put the audience into a collective groove where everyone was moving. Also commendable was Elevator’s instantly likable “A Car I Can Talk To.”

Belew’s acoustic set featured “Big Blue Sun” from Inner Revolution, a song that could reside on a Beatles album and reminded me why there seems to be a real symbiotic relationship between Todd Rundgren and Belew with his Fab Four blueprinting. Also featured was the Randy Newman-esque “Rocketship,” which is just waiting for the right PIXAR film feature to swoop it up. Finishing the set was the reflective “You Can’t Lie To Yourself” and an acoustic version of the leading track from Elevator, “A13,” with its super catchy low ostinato line and double-tracked singing. The Crimson-laden closing set featured highlights such as “Frame By Frame,” “Indiscipline,” and “Thela Hun Ginjeet” among others, and Belew’s trio nailed it.

Belew has always exuded a ‘handmade-meets-high tech’ approach to creativity. His songwriting structure is very definitely steeped in the Lennon-McCartney canon that interestingly mixes with his otherworldly and avant-garde influences – and that duality is what defines him. Through that identity, he has helped to bring defining moments to all of the recording and performing opportunities he has had, most emphatically with King Crimson and his own solo work. Tonight’s audience was proof that all in attendance were sharing the ongoing defining moments that Adrian Belew and his Power Trio had to offer. In the words of another defining group – a splendid time was guaranteed for all.


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Category: Featured, Live Reviews

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