Adrian Belew juggles touring, scoring ‘Piper’ & Bowie tributes
Adrian Belew made his name improving the sounds of artists who were already pretty damn awesome. The guitarist’s chops helped push Frank Zappa’s live shows to new heights in the mid-’70s. A short time later, Belew jumped to David Bowie’s band and blew the minds of Major Tom’s fans (Youtube “Stay” in ’78). In the ’80s, the maestro reinvigorated prog stars King Crimson and added wild textures to the Talking Heads.
Knowing Belew’s sonic Midas touch, it’s not surprising his work on “Piper” helped win the film an Oscar last Sunday. The Pixar production scored by Belew took home best animated short. Not bad considering Belew had never composed music for a film.
“Piper” is just six minutes long, but it took him three years to finish the score. Roughly 120 seconds a year is awfully slow considering Belew has released three dozen records on his own and in various groups over four decades.
“Computer animation is a glacial process to begin with,” he said ahead of a gig with his power trio at the Sinclair tonight. “(But) in a film with no dialogue, the emotional content of the music becomes more important, so the director, Alan Barillaro, wanted me to collaborate throughout the entire process.
“I was involved in many other projects during the making of the film,” he added. “But I always allowed myself enough time to keep in sync with Pixar.”
This could be Belew’s mantra: “I was involved in many other projects during ...”
While preparing for his current trio tour with bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph, the guitarist helped put on a handful of Bowie tribute concerts in Britain and this country last month. With a revolving list of guests and ever-evolving set lists, the shows had a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants vibe that was both hectic and joyfully spontaneous.
“They were a bit stressful for many reasons,” Belew said. “But the concerts themselves were all phenomenal. I enjoy going out on a limb now and then.”
Another source of stress was honoring Bowie and his unhinged artistic energy with reverence. Many of the performers, who knew him intimately, had visceral reactions to the tributes.
“There were several times during the concerts where I choked up a bit, remembering having played those songs with David so many times,” Belew said. “It’s difficult to accept I will never see him again.”
Because of his addiction to fresh projects, Belew is working on an album with Police drummer Stewart Copeland and putting together liner notes for a box set of Zappa’s famed Halloween shows at New York City’s Palladium Theater. Don’t worry, with all this going on, he remains committed to putting on killer gigs during this tour with his trio, which has been together for more than five years.
“We have something very special together,” he said. “The trio format gives me a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of freedom. (Slick and Ralph) are both great young musicians who have never let me down. We’re a bunch of nuts, just the way I like it.”
Adrian Belew Power Trio, with Saul Zonana, at the Sinclair, tonight. Tickets: $28; sinclaircambridge.com.