Sunday, 11 September 2005

The show was billed as “Adrian Belew and Eric Johnson.” I had never heard of Eric Johnson before, and the Minnesota Zoo isn’t normally high on my concert venue list. On the flip side, Adrian Belew is one of my favorite guitar players. I love his solo work, as well as the stuff he’s done with King Crimson.

Bethany, Patrick’s girlfriend, works for a local ticket distributor, so when she mentioned the show, I just couldn’t pass it up. She offered to reserve me a seat and get me the ticket via Patrick.

About a week later, I saw Patrick and was completely floored! Row B, Seat 13. The Zoo doesn’t seat Row A for concerts. I had a front row ticket to see Adrian Belew! As it turns out, I was a mere 30 feet from Belew for his entire set.

I was a bit disapointed to find out that Belew was the opening act, rather than it being a true double-bill, but it was better than nothing. I’ll take Adrian Belew as an opener over no Belew any day.

This tour was in support of Side One and Side Two, released earlier this year, and Side Three, scheduled for this fall. Belew was accompanied by Mike Gallaher on bass and Mike Hodges on drums. Both accomplished musicians in their own right, they combined perfectly with Belew’s top-notch playing. I’ve always considered Belew to be an amazing guitarist, quite possibly the greatest alive today, and this show only reinforced my opinion.

Right from the outset, the 60 minute set was loud. I’m sure part of it was that I didn’t have earplugs and I was seated right up front. The new album falls more along the progressive-rock side of things than the some of his more accessible, pop-friendly tunes. During the show, he snuck in a couple older songs like “Big Electric Cat,” but, despite calls from the audience, “The Momur” (one of my favorites) didn’t make the list. It ended up being about 1/3 King Crimson and the rest from his solo work. I was able to pick out “Dinosaur,” “Frame by Frame,” “Three of a Perfect Pair,” and “Elephant Talk.”

At one point during Belew’s set, a security gorilla got in my face. I could only guess that he didn’t like something about my camera, although I couldn’t hear a word he actually said. There were other people shooting pictures and I had the flash turned off, so I’m not sure why he picked on me. Better to do what he wants rather than get thrown out.

The crew turned the stage pretty fast, but I had time to go talk to the gorilla. He thought it was a video camera, which is “never, ever allowed at shows.” I showed him the camera (Canon PowerShot S500) and explained that it does digital stills. Admittedly, it can do video, but at horribly low resolution only minutes at a time. He apologized for the confusion and told me to make sure the flash was turned off.

When Eric Johnson took the stage, I really didn’t know what to expect. From everything I could find, including his Web site, he’s described as a pop/blues/progressive/rock guitarist. Kind of an unusual combination really, and one that had me a bit wary. It’s not often an artist can bridge that many styles and do any of them well.

Johnson was accompanied by bassist Chris Maresh and drummer Tommy Taylor. They pretty much launched right into it with a blues influenced vocal number named “My Back Pages.” It really reminded me of “Red Barchetta” by Rush. The comparison may be a bit of a stretch, but that’s how my brain connects things.

I was continually surprised throughout the 2 hour show. He floated seamlessly between styles and managed to pull it off. I liked Johnson’s blues and progressive songs the best, the pop-oriented tunes the lest. That said, the set was well put together and nothing came off as a clinker.

As for a set list, I think it’s “My Back Pages,” “Trademark,” “Forty Mile Town,” “Summer Jam,” “Down on the Floor,” “Columbia,” “Solo by Chris (the bassist),” “Tribute to Jerry Reed,” “SRV,” “Desert Rose,” “Cliffs,” “Anthem for Today,” “Righteous,” and “Manic Depression.” It still looks incomplete, but I had to find the set-list on-line and that’s the best I could find.

All said and done, I would have preferred Eric Johnson opening for Adrian Belew, or a double-bill. Even so, I expect that the next time Johnson plays in town, regardless the opening act, I’ll probably go see the show.

My only real complaint for the whole evening was the volume. It was remarkably loud, almost painfully so. I forgot my earplugs and they didn’t have any at the venue. It felt like I had a hangover the next day; not from alcohol, but from sound pressure. My ears rang (more than usual) the better part of the following week.

The final tally: 397 pictures (83 during Belew’s set, 314 during Johnson’s), zero autographs, 180 minutes of music, and a new artist to add to my collection. Actually, the autograph count isn’t 100% true. I did pick up Eric Johnson’s latest at the merch table and they had them pre-autographed. In my book that doesn’t really count; I like to talk to the artist for even those fleeting seconds and ask for the autograph directly.

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