Adrian Belew Remains on Stage and on Tour

The prolific guitarist plays with Jerry Harrison in a Talking Heads tribute show on July 26, then comes back to town with King Crimson.
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Photograph courtesy Remain In Light

Guitarist extraordinaire Adrian Belew, Jerry Harrison, and an 11-person band perform music from Talking Heads’ landmark 1980 album Remain in Light at Bogart’s on July 26. Harrison was a founding member of Talking Heads, while Belew—the Northern Kentucky native who now lives in Nashville—provided crucial, thrillingly innovative guitar work for that album and also toured with the influential band in 1980.

Belew has also played with Frank Zappa, David Bowie, King Crimson, and Cincinnati-based The Bears. Now 74, he stays busy with several simultaneous touring projects; he’ll also be at Taft Theatre on October 26 as part of a group playing King Crimson’s 1980s music. He speaks with Cincinnati Magazine about his upcoming Bogart’s show as well as the history of his Talking Heads involvement.

How did this Remain in Light show originate?

Jerry and I have seen each other many times over the years, and every time we eventually talk about this YouTube video of Talking Heads live in Rome in 1980. What a great show that was, because it made everybody happy and has this buoyance about it that’s missing in almost everything these days. And we said, “Wouldn’t it be great to do something like that now, because the world certainly needs it.” When we finally decided to do it, the response was bigger than either of us thought it would be, so we’re still doing it. It’s an 11-piece band and a fabulous show, and vocals are shared between five of us—myself, Jerry, and the baritone sax player take most of the leads. None of us try to sound or act like [Talking Heads lead singer] David Byrne. That would be a mistake.

What were the recording sessions involving you like for Remain in Light?

I went in the studio, and they said, “We want you to just go out and listen to this track, put a solo where you think it should be, and we’ll write a song around it.” When I thought it was the right time, I played a solo, and I looked in the control room and they were bouncing off the wall, jumping up and saying, “Love that!” I thought, “Well, that went well,” waited around a little longer and put in a second solo. That became “The Great Curve.” It’s important enough a song from Remain in Light that it’s now our closing song.

More important than “Once in a Lifetime?”

“Once in Lifetime” precedes it in the show two or three songs earlier. “Lifetime” was a hit; “Curve” was not a hit, but it stands out with all of the music aficionados and guitar players. The solos fit the music perfectly.

Once, people differentiated between noise and music. Over time, it seems to me, noise has come to be accepted as one legitimate element of popular music. With your use of distinctively unusual guitar sounds, there have been references to your approach as “blended noise.” What do you think?

My first thought would be that I don’t consider what I do noise. Even in the most abstract things that I do, it’s all still very musical to me, whether I’m making the sound of a whale or an elephant or I’m soloing away and it’s part backwards and part forward. I’ve discovered so many unique things I can do with a guitar, but it’s all been in service of the music. That’s all it’s ever been.

But what you’re talking about is taking guitar to another level. A lot of people did that over time, most notably Jimi Hendrix. It’s only natural that other people can take that and move it forward another step or two.

From the beginning, I felt I could do all the things you’re supposed to do on guitar and play in a lot of styles, but those things have already been done. I was really good at figuring out how to make sounds. Not just imitating sounds of other things, like a car horn or a siren or something, but actual sounds that had never been made before. That really intrigues me more than anything.

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