2017: My Year Of Bowie Guitarists

After seeing King Crimson in the fall of 2017, it occurred to me that 2017 was marked as a period where, for one reason or another, I seemed to be seeing a lot of artists who played lead guitar with David Bowie! With Bowie gone, it looked as though his sidemen were extra busy playing live all at the same time. Was it the zeitgeist, which had focused our attention on the Bowie legacy or was it all just a coincidence? No matter what, as the year began to unspool, I couldn’t help but notice that I was seeing a lot of Bowie sidemen.

NUMBER ONE: Adrian Belew

I had a studied history with Belew. In fact, the first time I ever saw him was in 1990 as part of Bowie’s “Sound + Vision Tour band!” That was also my first Bowie concert so it was a pretty large, multi-media spectacle. I’d seen Belew three further times with King Crimson in the 90s/00s as they became active again before hibernating. Possibly my favorite Belew show was the time my wife and I saw him with The Bears, his pop combo shortly after moving to Asheville in 2001. That show was magical.

Then, there was the Adrian Belew solo gig we walked out of five years later. A rare moment of Belew with his head in a place I could not happily follow. It was May 4, 2017 when I saw the Adrian Belew Power Trio for the first time, and found it to be a delightful, if intense dip into his less pop oriented catalog; with a hefty helping of King Crimson, which felt wonderful to hear after an 11 year drought. Impressively, they gave me a much wanted “Frame By Frame” that was Frippless and didn’t suffer for it at all! Best of all, he played the Bowie cut from his “Lodger” period that I most wanted to hear live, a great “Boys Keep Swinging” since fully a third of the song was his guitar solo. After a dozen years of steering clear of Belew, I’m ready for anything again, and the full review can be found here.

NUMBER TWO: David Torn

I first heard David Torn when he recorded the David Sylvian album “Secrets Of The Beehive.” I next really noticed him when the third Mick Karn album, “Bestial Cluster” arrived in 1993. He’s then all over Sakamoto, Anderson, and King Crimson member albums with a high water mark being when he played on “Heathen,” “Reality” and “The Next Day.” I was regretting missing Torn when he did a house concert at Streamside Studios locally. I didn’t have the cash at the time, so when Streamside brought him back on September 8 of 2017, I was ready to pounce. I have to say it was an underwhelming experience. Given that about 40 of us paid to sit in front of the artist, I would have felt embarrassed to have left in the middle of the show. It was nothing awful; just not very musical. That’s why I didn’t bother reviewing it at the time. As it turns out, I have another chance to see Torn again in a few weeks at Big Ears Festival we’re attending. We’ll maybe give it another try and if it’s unmusical, there will be enough people coming and going not to draw attention to our exit.

NUMBER THREE: Reeves Gabrels

I was immediately beholden to reeves Gabrels for being the straight shooting friend who was instrumental in saving Bowie’s bacon when he became artistically astray in the 80s. I greeted that first Tin Machine album like a starving man at a buffet table. [Now we can have some words about the second one…]. He was Bowie’s guitarist for a good decade run that saw him moving all over the stylistic map and Gabrels favored a rough, almost metallic tone that posited him somewhere on the axis between Belew and Fripp, so what else could I say but “hooray.”

I discovered that he was playing at the Grey Eagle on October 4, 2017 while eating my dinner and perusing the local freekly. He was scheduled to begin playing in about 30 minutes from that time and did I ever get my rear end in gear to get to the venue in about that to see this man up close and personal. And he even played a song from “Tin Machine” to my delight – the wonderful “Bus Stop.” I’d seen him with Bowie on two solo tours, and I felt privileged then, but that didn’t begin to encompass the beauty he was throwing down six feet in front of me at the Grey Eagle that night! Flat out, these were the most amazing, beautiful guitar solos I’d ever heard live. Period! Full details here.

NUMBER FOUR: Robert Fripp

Fripp, was, of course, the big enchilada. He’s definitely my preferred Bowie guitarist since he contributed heavy lifting to my two favorite Bowie albums, “Heroes,” and “Scary Monsters [and Super Creeps].” I had seen King Crimson in three diverse shows between 1997 and 2003 in the 90s configuration of the band. All of it had a lot to offer. Then my wife and I saw Fripp solo in our fair city on a soundscape tour/Q+A that was a lovely evening out with “The Headmaster,” as I refer to him. I’d like to say that I had a good question for Fripp in the Q+A that followed his set, but I was far too intimidated to even think of one that was intelligent enough in his presence. I had tried for weeks up front and only settled on one after the show!

I had been super interested in the revised King Crimson lineup of the 10s as they had quite a fantastic lineup that was for once capable of playing the full spectrum of King Crimson canon, and fantastically well, of course. I was thrilled to see them finally venturing to the southeast on October 26, 2017 in Raleigh. It was, any way you would care to slice it, the most perfect King Crimson event possible, ever. Even the songs from the one album of theirs that I can’t stand were amazing. The full monty can be found here.

The only Bowie guitarist still out in the wilds that I think I need to see would be Earl Slick. Of course, yesterday we discussed my one muffed chance to have seen Mick Ronson back in 1990. I can’t think of any other Bowie guitarists that I have a further need to see live, but it was fascinating how for one year, after Bowie’s demise, that there seemed to be a veritable parade of his lead guitarists playing for my enjoyment.

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15 Responses to 2017: My Year Of Bowie Guitarists

  1. DJ Craig says:

    I remember, upon listening to Station To Station after it’s initial release, picturing this “Earl Slick” guy in my mind as being black for whatever reason. Probably because he played with so much funk/soul. This wouldn’t have been a stretch as Bowie had a propensity to play with artists of various persuasions. With a scarcity of band images available back in the day, I had only the music to form my impressions. I think I was a little surprised when I finally found out he wasn’t how I’d initially imagined him. Saw him last year at the Bowie celebration, good to know he’s still out there shredding.


  2. I don’t think I’ve seen a “Bowie guitarist” since seeing Earl Slick with the man himself back in 2003 (that was the second time, after the Serious Moonlight tour nearly 20 years prior!). He was magnificent – could really do it all and look good doing it! And it sounds like I really need to catch Reeves Gabrels!


  3. Tim says:

    Re: Fripp, was the Soundscape tour related to the three cd set that he did when his mother died?
    I even got my DAD into those discs a year or two before he died. He asked me the who/what knowing I would tell him more than he wanted and when I gave him the backstory he was even more impressed.


  4. Mark Moerman says:

    I saw Adrian Belew with his power trio about a year ago and absolutely loved the show. He was on fire, and my friend and I were both seriously impressed by his drummer. It was fun to hear his f Crimso tunes without the usual Crimso fiddle-faddle.

    I saw Crimso three times in the 80s and again in 2000, and I saw Fripp with the one-shot Slow Music improvisational ensemble back sometime in the ’00s. I really, really want to see the current King Crimson band, but they have yet to come to the Pacific Northwest, doggone it! I have thoroughly enjoyed their concert videos and live recordings. I’ve enjoyed Jakko Jackszyk’s work ever since the first Dizrythmia album.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mark Moerman – I spent good money seeing KC in 2017 and it was worth more than I paid! If they come within earshot again it’s VIP time. Simply stunning. “The band has never been better” says the guy who only started listening to them in 1978 and didn’t see them until 1995. Belew’s drummer? “The Hummingbird?” Yeah. I completely loved Belew’s Power Trio! I wish I didn’t have such a bad reaction in 2006 to his show then, as I deliberately missed all 2-3 of the Power Trio Shows that came through town afterward for many years. oops.


      • Mark Moerman says:

        At the Adrian Belew Power Trio show, I was wearing my King Crimson sweatshirt, a red garment that replicates the “Discipline” LP cover. During the intermission, a young woman came up to me and commented on my sweatshirt, and we chatted for a few moments. As she was leaving, she introduced herself; it was Adrian Belew’s daughter!


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Mark Moerman – Audie Belew of “Oh Daddy” fame herself, then? I remember talking with his wife who was manning the merch table along with the other significant others at The Bears show in 2001.


  5. I’ve seen Belew at least a couple of times, notably on that “Sound and Vision” tour as well as with Talking Heads. I’ve sadly never seen Fripp live, but I did see one Bowie tour with Carlos Alomar on the Glass Spider tour. I’ve also seen Gerry Leonard, who is a very underrated guitarist IMO on the Heathen tour and then later with Suzanne Vega.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Wait! How did you see the “Heathen” tour? Why am I just learning this now? There was only a dozen dates in the summer of 2002 in California, the northeast and a pair in the midwest. You are in L.A. in February, so how did this happen?


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