Okay, let’s start with the resume: three decades fronting King Crimson. Frank Zappa. David Bowie (at the height of his power). Talking Heads (at the height of their power). Nine Inch Nails. A 35 year solo career. Oh, and a huge chunk of those funky, needly guitar lines on Paul Simon’s masterpiece Graceland? Adrian Belew, who wraps up a 42-date club tour with his Power Trio on Sunday night at the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley. Belew is no stranger to Cincinnati: he grew up in Covington, and fronted local legends The Bears through the late 80s (the band’s remaining members went on to form The Raisins, now renamed psychodots, who can still be seen gigging around the area).
The Adrian Belew Power Trio was formed eight years ago with siblings Eric and Julie Slick on drums and bass, respectively. Eric left in 2009 to focus on his work with Dr. Dog, and was replaced first by Joe Satriani drummer Marco Minnemann, and then permanently by current drummer Tobias Ralph. This is Belew’s first U.S. tour since he was unceremoniously booted from King Crimson last fall. The band went on hiatus in 2009, and when longtime guitarist (and only constant member) Robert Fripp announced their reformation, Belew’s name was nowhere to be seen. In a Facebook post at the time, Belew stated: “[N]o, I was not [asked to be in the new King Crimson]. [R]obert informed me in an email that he was starting a 7-piece version of the band. [H]e said I would not be right for what the band is doing.” Needless to say, a pretty cold way to end a 32 year working relationship.
But that’s not to say he’s left that chapter of his musical career behind. The Trio’s shows this year are split, with two thirds covering Belew’s vast solo discography, the other third on his first four records with King Crimson. It’s almost as if Belew is taking a breath, a chance to look back on 30 years’ work before moving on to what’s next. Sunday’s show will run the gamut from intricate prog-rock epics to noisy power pop and bizarro post-Captain Beefheart freakouts (see: “The Momur,” in which Belew’s wife is transformed into a demon).
All of it is anchored by Belew’s legendary and innovative guitar playing. Frank Zappa once opined that Belew had “reinvented” the instrument. His guitar rig comprises a dozen-odd effects pedals and multiple MIDI modules and synthesizers, all running through four modeling amplifiers. At the center of everything are his custom-built signature Parker Fly guitars, which have a special vibrato system that allows Belew to perform his dizzying acrobatics without going out of tune.
It’s hard to say what comes next for Belew. Five years removed from his last solo record and free of both King Crimson and Nine Inch Nails (which he left before their 2013 Hesitation Marks tour), it seems that anything is possible. But for now, he’s reliving what he’s accomplished to date, constantly reinventing it on the fly from the stage, before taking that next step.