The Aristocrats – Live at Masquerade

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My son told me about this band soon after our trip to the Steven Wilson concert.  The Aristocrats includes two musicians from Wilson’s current band, the guitarist (Guthrie Govan) and drummer (Marco Minnermann), and a bass player (Bryan Beller) with a similar “musician’s musician” pedigree.  And, soon after that, we found that they were coming to Atlanta on the heels of their second CD release, Culture Clash.  $20.  Done deal.

I may as well review their CD in the same space, because the band is instrumental.  It’s well recorded and, to my ears, harkens back to Steve Morse’s days in the Dixie Dregs.  Subtract any intentions for pleasing melodies, throw in several more muscular, thrash style guitar licks,  try to marry their very jazzy inclinations with rock ambitions, and there you are.  It’s very enjoyable for those who enjoy rock/jazz fusion with a priority of playing as many notes as possible as often as the music allows.  I like the CD, but I’d like to hear one CD of them concentrating on the fusion and another with an all-out frontal assault.  That said, it’s growing on me.

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

The Masquerade is a fun place to watch a show and an absolutely unique and beloved Atlanta venue.  “Purgatory,” the smallest of three rooms in the facility, is not.  One might expect that It should be middle ground between “Heaven” and “Hell,” both of which are exemplary rooms, but it’s clearly an afterthought for an available space vertically located between the other two.  Funny.  I get it.  Book parties there, not bands. 

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It’s got a nice bar, and the stone/wood structure certainly has atmosphere.  But put a band on a barely elevated stage, and it’s an unfortunate venue that begs that all the tall people rush to the front so that everyone else suffers... not to mention structural support poles that obstruct the main sight lines.  Bad.  It also has hideous static LED lights that help keep the temperature down but otherwise color all the testosterone in the room pink.  That said, the sound is decent.  It must be the warm tones from the wood in the structure, because I won’t credit any actual thoughtfulness to customer experience.

The Yeti Trio opened, a fairly bizarre band that includes a fantastic drummer, a talented keyboardist, and a jazzy guitarist, playing a variety of jazz fusion jam band/spaced out sounds.  Overall, a good opening act, but a better one with seats and after a few starter beers to soak it in. 

Standing 7 deep from the stage, no view.  Lifting a camera above my head, I get these:

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Not terrible, but not what I saw.  So, I scooted to the right wall, where my son had found a spot at the edge of the stage.  The good: a better view and a wall to lean against.  The bad:  5’ from a speaker.  I prefer my tinnitus on steroids, please.

The Yeti’s drums were whisked away, and in very short order the Aristocrats were plugged in and playing, which they would do for almost two hours.  “Playing” has two connotations.  One is the playing of music, which per the set list below, was plentiful.  Another is playing around.  Absent vocals in their music, they amply and ably express themselves when introducing the inspiration to songs... walking into a door frame while concentrating on a tune (Gaping Head Wound), a dropped amplifier on stair (Ohhhh Noooo), endless travel (Living the Dream), mid-western nothingness (Flatlands), screwing around with blues standards until they’re all but unrecognizable (Bluesfuckers), etc.

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They also feed off of each other during the show.  It’s impossible to know how much is planned versus what is improvised, but the songs were definitely extended versions of what had been recorded, and non-verbal communication was frequently observed through each song.

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Overall, this is a band that probably is most highly regarded by musicians who could follow along on technical merits of odd scales and time signatures.  For me, watching fleet fingers is amazing, but the band sounded its best when bass and drums actually worked together rather than dazzling in musical theory.  Guthrie Govan, particularly, can play any style he wants, but despite some variance, he rarely approaches a melodic guitar line with this group.  Enjoyable, just not enough ear candy as I would prefer.  Watching technical masters?  Splendid.

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Marco Minnerman, above, inhabits the drums, a joy to watch and hear.  All three fairly frequently brought out squeaky pigs and a chicken for ensemble sounds, which were quite entertaining.  I’d guess it was Minnerman’s idea – he seemed most amused.  It’s obvious, too, that Marco has seen Roger Waters’ The Wall with his “Pigs on the Wing” play.

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The best thing about the show was the camaraderie between the members.  These guys seem to really enjoy each other’s company, and that can only lead to good things.  So many artists keep the audience at a distance by not engaging or, conversely, not revealing anything.  This group enjoys the stories and each other.  I’ll certainly keep listening.

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3 of 5 STARS

 

 

(- 1 star for Purgatory...)

Set List

  • Furtive Jack
  • Sweaty Knockers
  • Ohhhh Noooo
  • Louisville stomp
  • Get It Like That
  • Culture Clash
  • Blues Fuckers
  • Flatlands
  • Gaping Head Wound
  • Dance of the Aristocrats
  • Living the Dream

Encore

  • Erotic Cakes (from Guthrie’s exceptional solo CD by the same name)

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