Music News

Seeing Adrian Belew in an intimate space like the Toad Tavern is a special treat, and that's the way he likes it

Few, if any, living guitarists can match Adrian Belew's impressive resumé in terms of depth and range of accomplishment over the course of his four-decades-long career. Belew first came to prominence as a player on Frank Zappa's 1979 album Sheik Yerbouti, which led to his long-term role in King Crimson as well as a string of high-profile playing and studio gigs with the likes of Talking Heads, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon, Mike Oldfield and, most recently, Trent Reznor. Largely a self-taught musician, he has a unique sound, virtuosity and versatility that go beyond superb technique into the realm of artistry. Though Belew is better known for his collaborative efforts with other artists, his accomplished and consistently fascinating solo albums are noteworthy in their own right. The recently released e, with the Adrian Belew Trio, is no exception.

Westword: What is it about your power trio with Eric and Julie Slick that allows you to do what you haven't before?

Adrian Belew: First of all, it's a trio. And rarely have I worked in a format where I'm the only guitar player. If you look at my past projects, they're all shared relationships with another guitarist. When you're a trio and you're the only guitarist, if you've got the right players and you've got the right material, you can really fly freely. I'm not just talking improvising; everything is on you, so you can do as much as you want. In my case, I do a lot of looping so I can have something basic going on underneath what I'm playing, so when I take solos or improvise, it doesn't get empty. Eric and Julie are young and energetic, and they've mastered their instruments at an incredibly young age. They can play just about anything I could possibly throw at them. That has given me license to do whatever I want.

What do you like about playing smaller venues versus larger shows?

If you want to get the most from a show and you want your audience to have the best musical experience from a show and maybe take away something — maybe even change their lives, hopefully, in some minor way — it's best to do it in small venues, where the energy stays there in the room. Everyone can see, everyone can feel the music, everyone can be a part of it. It's not the best thing to do economically, but musically, for the experience for the audience, I so much prefer it, and I so much prefer what it does to the band itself. You really do feed off the audience. I know that's an old cliché. In our shows now, people get so excited, we get excited. The bigger it gets, the less that effect happens. When I played in stadiums with David Bowie for the whole year in 1990, it was a wonderful experience and incredible in so many ways, but it wasn't a musical one.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.