ADRIAN BELEW: SIDE FOUR (2007)
1) Writing On The Wall; 2) Dinosaur; 3) Ampersand; 4) Young Lions; 5) Beat Box Guitar; 6) Matchless Man; 7) A Little Madness; 8) Drive; 9) Of Bow And Drum; 10) Big Electric Cat; 11) (Thanks); 12) Three Of A Perfect Pair; 13) Thela Hun Ginjeet.
Like every true Crimsonian, Adrian Belew prefers working in the Power Trio format — that is, whenever his social instincts call for a change of the Power Solo format — and by 2006, he has finally procured himself a more or less permanent backup, consisting of brother Eric Slick on drums and sister Julie Slick on bass. Both siblings had been picked up on Adrian's inspection of «Paul Green's School of Rock», a place where one actually pays money to be taught how to play Bon Jovi guitar solos; but the teachers definitely know their trade, because the Slicks are, indeed, at a level of competence where they can at least stand up to Belew's level.
Stand up, but never pose a threat, that is: Adrian has been smart enough to pick a team with which he need not be ashamed to mount the stage, but also one that will never be able to blow him off it. There are no signs of battling it out: when they play live, Belew is the star throughout — and the Slicks are a nice pair of youngsters, blessed by Fortune with the ability to bask in the glory rays of the beautiful (if balding), super-dexterous (if predictable) Guitar God.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Side Four is the unexpected «even» conclusion to Adrian's outburst of creativity, topping it off with the recording of a live performance (at Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio, no less) — Belew's first «proper» solo live album, discounting the live acoustic parts of the 1993 and 1998 records. The setlist mixes new stuff, oldies, and a few King Crimson hits, and focuses on songs rather than improvisation, possibly because the Adrian Belew Power Trio did not improvise all that much on the tour. Where there is improvisation, it is all centered on Adrian: for 'Drive', he lets the siblings take a break and indulges in seven minutes of pure guitar fun, even incorporating a razor-sharp psychedelic solo that faithfully reproduces the melody of 'Within You Without You' (!). The only other lengthy, semi-improvisational suite is 'Beat Box Guitar', extended, partially deconstructed and incorporating bits of 'Discipline' and some other stuff I do not recognize.
Belew is, as usual, in great form — has there been one single instance when he was not? — and the whole experience is a lot of fun, including seeing him refresh and rejuvenate real old classics like 'Big Electric Cat' and 'Young Lions', or dragging out some obscurities like 'Of Bow And Drum' off the pretty much forgotten Op Zop Too Wah album. Note, also, that I was perfectly right about Side One representing the «proper» Belew and Two and Three representing a frustrated Belew, struggling to keep his promise: 'Drive' is the only track from either of these two sides, whereas Side One is represented by no less than five different performances.
The only drawback here is the usual stale sense of predictability — and even that is softened with all the reinventions, as well as the curiosity of seeing the «Adrian Belew School of Rock» in action. May it be hoped, eventually, for an official video with professional camerawork, because that Julie Slick is kinda h... uh, is a great master of the fretboard.