The Aristocrats
Boing, We'll Do It Live!
(DVD-V + CD)

I have no trouble admitting that upon reading of the birth of this new group, The Aristocrats, being ailed as "A Fusion Supergroup", I felt something halfway between indifference and hostility. True, I hold Beller in high esteem, but the very idea of "a trio of virtuosi", coupled with my scant knowledge of the past work of the other musicians in the line-up - whose members are (in alphabetical order): Bryan Beller on bass, Guthrie Govan on guitar, and Marco Minnemann on drums - had me anticipate long listening sessions that invariably turned into snoozefests.

It goes without saying that I have nothing against "prodigious technical skills". It's just that, in certain musical contexts - and here I have to say that, in so totally different from the excellent CD of the same name the group released about a year ago, the cover of Boing, We'll Do It Live! is exactly the kind of repellent cover I see in the windows of those shops that sell musical instruments, which would never make me feel any curiosity about the music featured inside (is there really no alternative to this "Caveman Macho" aesthetic dimension?) - the music that's performed amounts to scales played at the speed of light at maniacally fast tempos, with the music content at about zero.

So it was with great surprise that I had to admit - my impression being confirmed when I caught the group live, and now by this release, recorded in concert - that the only "fusion" thing in this group is the name of the bass head (to be precise, a Fusion 550 by Gallien-Krueger) that stands behind Beller. (Endorsement rules being what they are, even Beller's wha-wha pedal - a Cry Baby bass, provided my glasses still work - gets a couple of close-ups in this movie, and deservedly so.)

I have no doubts about it: The Aristocrats are a "rock" band that plays complex instrumental music. It goes without saying that those who identify "rock" with the post-Nirvana scenario will find my meaning hard to share - or even difficult to believe - but they are invited to walk the extra mile: they could be pleasantly surprised.

The featured members of the trio are all fine composers - 'cause it's compositions we're talking about here, not hastily concocted "heads" followed by interminable solos (for this writer, the only interminable solo is always the drum solo, in this case I would have preferred the one featured here to end after the fine two-sticks on the hi-hat moment). I also have to mention the mature melodic dimension of the themes and solos featured here, it's all material one could whistle (at one's peril, of course!). To me, Govan appears to be the most mature and versatile composer of the trio; Beller makes great use of what to me appear to be the main ingredients of his compositional palette - i.e., fusion (ahem...) and Zeppelin-rock - (but it's obvious that something like the very fine piece titled Flatlands shows new horizons in sight); while those pieces that Minnemann brings to the group show his mature way of assembling simple material in order to shape a greater whole, with some funny links to the music of 60s-era "Beat Groups" (while, in concert just as on the album, the long "metal" coda to Get It Like That is for me a source of incredible tedium).

The DeLuxe version of this album that features two CDs and one DVD-V is the one to get - there's a CD-only version, but to me it's the live footage that really shows the interplay between the players. About 2h. 30', well recorded live sound by Tim Pinch, recorded live on June 2-3, 2012 at the Alvas Showroom in San Pedro, California; stereo mix by Mark Niemiec, 5.1 Surround by Steven Wilson. Directed by David Foster and Bryan Beller. Produced by the group.

I don't know whether the group's decision to include three interviews as "bonus material" (there are also some audio soundcheck excerpts, nothing too important, I think - but what's that, a quote of Something Stupid by the Sinatras?) was in any way related to the Cream movie Cream's Farewell Concert. Anyway, these are fine interviews: Govan talks about chords and phrasing; Minnemann shows the way his new piece Dance Of The Aristocrats is built, and shows how to perform a difficult drum transition; while Beller brings back some moments from his own creative path by featuring the electric guitar, an instruments on which he's definitely not a virtuoso - which is precisely the point he wants to make here (I think).

The repertoire features all the material the group recorded for the album, plus some pages from the members' past solo repertoire. So we can watch - already apparent on the album, the interplay is impossible to miss here - and listen to Bad Asteroid, Greasy Wheel, Boing... I'm In The Back, Flatlands, I Want A Parrot, Blues Fuckers (a track which - with or without the drum solo - for me is the weakest track in the group's show) and Waves by Govan, whose theme reminds one of a mono synth with portamento from the 70s (there was something very Mini-Moog-sounding on the Govan-penned track Bad Asteroid, on the group's album).

Then, Get It Like That, Furtive Jack (sounding not too far from cartoon music, a dimension that to me seems not too far from Govan's musical dimension), Train Tracks by Minnemann (a track which I've never heard before), played as a medley with Cave Dweller by Beller, then Mr. Kempinsky by Minnemann (which I had listened to in concert without properly understanding its title), See You Next Tuesday, the new track Dance Of The Aristocrats by Minnemann (check Beller's right-hand bass part - a true human sequencer!), then the concert ends with a perfect ending: Sweaty Knockers by Beller and Erotic Cakes by Govan, the guitarist featuring - as in a few other pieces here - a fretless guitar.

The video is quite democratic in presenting the players' performing skills - even Minnemann's feet (he obviously sits on a "brand" stool, which as a non-musician I found quite amusing) get their fair share of the action, shot from behind; but in my opinion it's the guitar player's right hand that's the high point of the video - a versatile articulation which is the product of long study and meticulous application. I also have to mention Beller's taste and maturity, he never plays those "pyrotechnics" that give players cheap, easy fame.

In closing, I have to confess that I root for this trio (but not, I hope, at the expense of my critical objectivity), a fine specimen of a group whose musicians - "still young, but not too young" - try to do their best in a scenario where knowing how to play your instrument can actually be held against you, and who go on stage "casually dressed".

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2012 | Dec. 12, 2012