By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A guitarist who has performed and recorded with a who’s who of rock giants over the past four decades including Frank Zappa, David Bowie and King Crimson, six-string hero Adrian Belew brings his current quartet to the Bay Area for shows in San Francisco and Mill Valley.
Belew went from being a high-school guitar hero in his Kentucky hometown to relocating to the southern music capitol of Nashville during the ’70s to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. He was playing with a regionally popular cover band when he was discovered by rock experimentalist Frank Zappa in 1977 and eventually got invited to Los Angeles to audition for Zappa’s group.
Belew would end up playing with the guitar iconoclast for over a year, touring extensively and appearing on the 1979 studio album Sheik Yerbouti as well as the cult concert movie Baby Snakes that was filmed at the New York Palladium on Halloween in 1977. It was during his tenure with Zappa that producer Brian Eno recommended Belew to his regular collaborator David Bowie, who would poach the guitarist for his band.
Belew joined Bowie’s band for their 1978 tour, appearing on the live double album Stages and contributing what was becoming his signature unhinged lead guitar to songs on Lodger. While Belew would move on from Bowie’s group a year later, he would reunite with the songwriter a decade later, serving as guitarist and musical director on his retrospective Sound + Vision Tour in 1990.
As the ’70s turned into the ’80s, Belew’s activity would ramp up to a constant whirlwind. After relocating to Illinois and starting the group GaGa in 1979, the guitarist befriended the Talking Heads and began appearing as a guest at their concerts. He was eventually asked by the band (and their producer Eno) to add guitar to songs on the Remain in Light album and eventually got invited to joined the Heads’ live ensemble. Belew toured with the group into 1981 in addition to recording with related side projects including solo efforts by David Byrne and Jerry Harrison and the Tom Tom Club, a band led by the Talking Heads rhythm section of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.
Belew had also developed a friendship with King Crimson founding guitarist Robert Fripp, who would ask Belew to join a new version of the band featuring monster drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Tony Levin. The group would record a trilogy of critically acclaimed albums and tour to rave reviews, writing a new forward-thinking chapter in the story of the revered progressive rock outfit. Though it would only last until another split in 1984, Belew also started a successful solo career at the same time that would range from tuneful if angular rock to more accessible pop both on his own and as part of his band the Bears, culminating in the left-field MTV solo hit “Oh Daddy,” a duet with his pre-teen daughter Audie, in 1989.
The ’90s would be occupied by the return of King Crimson to touring and recording activity starting in 1994, though Belew would also stay busy with continuing solo recordings and the beginning of an extended collaboration with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who would use Belew as a session guitarist on a string of albums starting with the landmark recording The Downward Spiral.
While Belew is not touring with the latest version of Crimson convened by Fripp in 2013 — after a period of some public acrimony, last year Fripp announced that his differences with Belew had been resolved, opening the door for possibly future collaboration — the guitarist has maintained a steady output of solo efforts, mostly backed by his touring band since 2006, the Adrian Belew Power Trio. Early this year, the guitarist expanded the trio featuring drummer Jordan Perlson and bassist Julie Slick to a quartet with the addition of keyboard and guitar player Saul Zonana.
That group performs a mix of solo tracks — some drawn from Belew’s latest effort Pop-Sided that came out last spring — and King Crimson covers when they return to the Bay Area, headlining the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District Tuesday before playing the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley on Wednesday. Zonana opens both shows with a solo set.
Tuesday, Sept. 17, 8 p.m. $32-$35
Wednesday, Sept. 18, 8 p.m. $32-$37
Sweetwater Music Hall