On Thursday, August 8, prog-fusion supergroup The Aristocrats stormed through Columbus, Ohio. Currently on a nationwide tour in support of a new album entitled Culture Clash, the group appeared at the Rumba Café for the second time since their creation in 2011. Those in attendance were treated to an intimate night of genre-hopping musical virtuosity that benefited from the small venue size.
The Aristocrats are an instrumental group made up of three internationally known musicians all hailing from different parts of the globe. Guitarist Guthrie Govan is from the UK, bassist Bryan Beller comes from the United States, and drummer Marco Minnemann was born in Germany. All three have had long, successful careers as both solo artists and sidemen, and are well known in the music community for possessing highly developed chops on their respective instruments.
Not surprisingly, when Minnemann asked midway through the set if any musicians were in the house, well over half the audience raised their hands. Besides being largely musicians, the crowd that turned out on this Thursday was probably 80 percent male, which comes with the territory of heavy instrumental music.
The Aristocrats seemed to have been warmed up and ready to go as soon as they took the stage. A few songs in, they launched into the heavy bass riff of “Ohhhh Nooo” from their new album. Over Beller’s thunderous groove, Govan alternated between descending chord lines and stabbing clusters of single notes before dropping into a heavy riff that led into a section reminiscent of Rush.
The Aristocrats’ “Bad Asteroid”
Showcasing their willingness to explore different genres, Minnemann introduced the next tune as “Louisville Stomp,” a newer song that he and Beller wrote during soundcheck on a previous tour. Govan took control, playing like a musical chameleon. His work on this number alternated between ripping rockabilly-style country licks and insanely fast bebop jazz licks as the rhythm section shifted deftly underneath him.
The following song, “Get It Like That” was used as a springboard for some loose improvisational sections. The middle of the song included, at various times, Minnemann trading “licks” with Beller on a squeaky pig toy, all three jamming together on squeaky animal toys, and a brief tease of “Billie Jean” which featured Minnemann playing the vocal lines on, yes, a squeaky pig toy.
The squeaky toy jam was just one of many humorous moments peppered throughout the show. Nearly each song was preceded by a quick story about the tune’s creation or title, and some of these anecdotes were hysterical. Another lighthearted moment was during the epic drum solo Minnemann performed during “Blues Fuckers”. He worked his way from playing his entire kit to standing onstage playing nothing but his two sticks together. He attempted to spin one and dropped it, only to try twice more before finally succeeding as the crowd cracked up. He laughingly complained about the stage lights being in his eyes before launching back into the song.
The eleven songs performed by The Aristocrats touched on many genres including prog-rock, jazz-fusion, hard rock and metal. The closest thing to a ballad was the mysteriously beautiful “Flatlands.” Govan performed most of this song with a gorgeous clean tone enriched with tasteful whammy-bar vibrato, and a portion of his solo could have practically been mistaken for pedal-steel guitar.
After finishing out their set with “Living the Dream,” a fast, aggressive tune written by Beller, the band encored with the title track from Govan’s solo album Erotic Cakes. There seemed to be many young musicians in the crowd who came mainly to see his guitar playing and this was a welcome treat for those fans. Afterwards, the trio happily talked with fans and signed autographs, adding a fitting end to an already intimate night of music.
The Aristocrats’ music isn’t for everyone; they are the very definition of “musicians’ musicians”. However, those who like their music complex, progressive, and filled with jaw-dropping musicianship will love this band. As a live act, their blend of creative original songs mixed with great stage presence and humor is well worth seeing.
Written by Wib Schneider
OurVinyl | Contributor
Photos from Megan Hawranick