Prolific pop songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Adrian Belew is spending his summer vacation playing catch-up. A member of King Crimson, Belew is taking advantage of that band's extended hiatus by touring with two musicians and showcasing a wide variety of his solo recordings.
At the Rams Head in Annapolis on Thursday night, Belew gleefully indulged in a series of power trio performances with a big, percussive assist from bassist Mike Gallaher and drummer Mike Hodges. The tunes ranged from cleverly worded classics ("Dinosaur," "Elephant Talk" and "Young Lions") and often overlooked gems ("Of Bow and Drum") to compositions drawn from a batch of recent recordings: "Side One," "Side Two" and the upcoming "Side Three."
Among the new pieces was "Matchless Man," a romantic ballad that revealed Belew's flair for wedding smart lyrics to tuneful melodies. An unidentified raga-flavored instrumental from "Side Three" offered a more exotic treat, subtly reaffirming Belew's status as a twang bar king. True to form, the singer-songwriter also relied on laptop-generated loops, stomp boxes and a slide bar to help shape and color the music, in ways that sometimes recalled his debt to the Beatles or his collaborations with King Crimson, David Bowie and Talking Heads.
Fortunately, Belew isn't such a gear-head that he appears preoccupied onstage. He clearly gets a kick out of playing in a band. The jacked-up sound levels obscured some amusing wordplay, but his trio's melding of pop, funk, rock, jazz and world beat was nearly always invigorating, right down to the well-deserved encores.
-- Mike Joyce