Manchester Club Academy
Tuesday, 15th December 2015
Perhaps no better space exists for a musician to demonstrate their technical abilities than in the extant social underground of instrumental progressive rock. No gnarled restrictions upon composition or song length in order to fit into somebody’s radio show; no tight grip on the creative reins—perhaps with The Aristocrats above many instrumental rock bands, this could be a mantra.
Featuring guitarist Guthrie Govan (Asia, Steve Wilson), bassist Bryan Beller (Dethklok, Steve Vai, James LaBrie, and others), and drummer Marco Minnemann (Steve Wilson, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, and more), The Aristocrats took to the stage at 8pm sharp. No supporting act strode forward to excite the largely male, dark-clothed audience (indeed, Bryan Beller later self-deprecatingly asked the ladies of the audience if they were not there because their boyfriends were fans). Of course, this jest was taken in fair taste.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the 30 minutes between doors opening and gig commencing was the incongruous presence of microphones at each player’s position. Fans waited, their breath bated.
The Aristocrats worked their intricate way through eleven songs, seven from latest album Tres Caballeros (2015), beginning the evening with ‘Stupid 7’. Despite the demands of demonstrating such instrumental prowess, their ability to create abstruse sounds seemed effortless, with Govan’s fingers spending the evening mimicking a spider, spinning a web of 10,000 beautiful sounds.
Before track two began, and before each song following, the band took to their enigmatic microphones, and exercised their eloquence in preluding every song with an anecdote, many of which were coated with humour, with punchlines hitting as tightly as the band’s instrumental cohesion. Govan addressed the audience with the grace of a lord befitting the band’s title, with Beller providing a band-leader sense of direction to the proceedings (including manufacturing an audience-voiced chorus of OHHHs on ‘Smuggler’s Corridor’); and Marco Minnemann teased the band, declaring that in one song he would maintain his drum kit with his right hand, while playing a keyboard interlude with his left—the crowd roared and clapped in awe as he kept his promise.
The track ‘Jack’s Back’ followed a kleptomaniac through quiet, darkly lit musical streets and sudden dashing raids across envisaged soundscapes of wealth, illustrating that lyrics aren’t always required in order to create a story in music. ‘Texas Crazypants’, a song inspired by a strange incident of Bryan Beller’s involving a large truck, an angry woman’s crushed car, and her myriad threatening sisters, thumped into the audience with a guttural bassline and a riff catchy enough to rattle through the listener’s mind; the only disappointment was that fans of the song might have wanted the band to be more self-indulgent, and pay homage to the ‘repeat the same awesome riff that we’ve discovered ten times’ thing, if only for the liberating, nerdgasmic headbanging sensation of recondite entertainment.
Demonstrating their knowledge of obscure history with the track ‘Kentucky Meat Shower’, and their interest in rubber animals joining them on their tour with ‘Pig’s Day Off’, there was no shortage of amusement in between songs. The preludes seemed effective. The crowd were patient and ready to be amused, and perhaps the three to four minutes of band-audience engagement offered a brief respite from the barrage of physical demands upon these three warriors of prog. With each tune, they appeared to grow stronger, sucking on the life of the audience. Marco Minnemann needed only his hands and feet to demonstrate why he has contributed to countless artists’ albums, featured on numerous Drummer Magazine covers, and came runner-up only to the mathematical wonder Mike Mangini in Dream Theater’s 2011 new drummer documentary.
Concluding the evening with ‘Get It Like That’ from their self-titled first album, the band chose to ditch the rigmarole of disappearing pre-encore, and had yet another energetic conversation with an audience desperate for the show to continue before nine final minutes of superhuman displays of fretting and drumming.
The Aristocrats finished, and faced the stage backwards in order to capture the audience in a many-person selfie, before thanking the attendees and departing.
With a quietly concerted resurgence underfoot, The Aristocrats illustrated that they are prepared to play small venues to packed crowds if the sake of the evening is creation and enjoyment—perhaps those two nouns are the real mantra of their rise.