Adrian Belew has nothing to prove.
He's already had a hand in the most interesting, creative, and groundbreaking music of the past 30 years. Whether working with Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Talking Heads, the Bears, King Crimson, or with his own bands, Belew always went for the creative jugular, and in the process made a significant mark on whatever musical situation he found himself in.
Most musicians who have done far less have already taken the incentive package and semi-retired to the "play your couple of hits over and over again" circuit. Belew, on the other hand, has proven to be an artist of an entirely different temperament.
On Friday, the Tralf Music Hall hosted Belew's Power Trio, and an appreciative audience acted as witness to Belew's testimony. The man has played on many "hit" songs, can write a pop hook like almost no one else, and has proven his deep love for the craftsmanship of the Beatles repeatedly. Going for a higher commercial profile and playing bigger places was definitely one of Belew's possibilities whenever he took a break from his ongoing role in King Crimson. The man definitely took the less-traveled road.
Fronting the Power Trio -- 22 year-old drummer Eric Slick and his 23 year-old sister, Julie, on drums and bass respectively -- Belew offered a dense, challenging and exuberant set of music centered around an album that hasn't come out yet. That record, "e," out in a few weeks time, is a song-cycle based on repeated, expansive motifs, polyrhythms, daring harmonies and a jarring interpolation of grooves, to boot. Not exactly a case of coddling the audience, Belew and company's set, but an exhilarating encounter for those willing to take the risk.
Belew opened with an early, pre-Crimson favorite, "Big Electric Cat," but before anyone at the Tralf caught the whiff of nostalgia, the three ran off into dangerous, rocky and previously uncharted terrain. The Trio's new album, "e," was revealed in segments, and the first -- encompassing the initial four movements -- spent a quarter of an hour moving from a lyrical, classical introduction, through bits of industrial near-metal, African polyrhythmic motifs, a purely "free" section of improvisation, and some Beatle-esque psychedelia before its race was run.
The crowd, unfamiliar with this unreleased material, offered a visceral, chaotic response to its airing. Belew and the Slicks seemed pleased.
Belew is a wonderful singer, with a pure, high tenor, and a penchant for heartrending melody. That particular aspect of his genius was perhaps under-represented on Friday, but when he did take the mic for a more pop-structured song -- say "Ampersand," "Young Lion," "Of Bow and Drum," though none of these follow any of conventional pop's rules -- he made it count.
It should be noted that the Slick siblings have developed, since their stop at the Tralf in 2008, into two of the finest rock musicians extant. Eric's drumming was superb throughout, blending elements of Bill Bruford, John Bonham and Chad Wackerman into a wholly new hybrid. Slick is simply a stunning musician.
Bassist Julie brought low-end oomph, substantial melodic invention, and dizzying, John Entwhistle-like flurries of blues scales and more "outside" patterns to her side of the stage. Throughout, the Slicks appeared to be communicating in a manner that transcended language. It was all quite incredible to bask in.
And Belew? The man appeared to be walking on air, so comfortable in his element, so childlike in his enjoyment of the musicians around him. When the joyous interplay between the musicians on the stage can be parlayed to the audience, when those gathered take the journey with the players -- that's a beautiful and rare thing.
Adrian Belew Power Trio
Friday evening in the Tralf Music Hall.