For a guy who was winding up his most extensive North American tour in three years and now was less than 48 hours away from his 65th birthday, Adrian Belew was looking awfully spry last night at the 20th Century Theatre in Cincinnati.
Was that because the Covington native was essentially back in his old stomping grounds for the last night of a two month tour? Perhaps. Was it because the youthful vigor of his Power Trio was rubbing off on the guitarist? Very likely. Could it be that without a new recording to promote (save for the variations of song and sound fragments available on his new Fuse app), Belew was getting a charge out of showcasing a generous portion of his 30+ year recording career within a single stage program? Well, sure.
All of those elements came into play. But the driving force behind the two hour performance was the simple fact that Belew displayed an obvious love of performing. Of course, there were generous displays of his guitarwork, from long improvisational squalls to processed bits of chatter and syncopation. But it was the sense of playfulness, especially when he locked horns with drummer Tobias Ralph (reflected especially keenly during a lengthy Beat Box Guitar) or the giddiness that erupted out of a decades-old big-beat pop piece like The Lone Rhinoceros that gave the performance such an animated feel..
There was an intriguing structure to the show as well. Much of the repertoire was grouped in songs of four or five. The trio was able to get through roughly half of a song before a processed sound resembling a needle being yanked from a vinyl record or screeching brakes signaled it was time to move on. The transitions were actually pretty smooth and resulted in several unexpected mix tape-like medleys, like the mash-up of two 1982 songs with a post punk party feel, The Momur and Big Electric Cat, that opened the performance. Equally arresting were side-by-side snippets from Belew’s extended tenure in King Crimson, 1982’s Neurotica and 1995’s Walking on Air, that shifted from torrents of guitar frenzy to a pool of ambient pop cool.
What Belew didn’t skimp on were wicked instrumentals like b and e that balanced furious but organic trio interplay with jams augmented by looped melodies, mutated pop hooks and general improvisational mischief.
So, yes, youthful drive and an impending birthday filtered through the finality of a tour’s closing night might explain away some of Belew’s onstage cheer. But you also got the impression the guy would likely experience the save level of fun any night he found himself onstage.