The Fleece, Bristol
Thursday, 15th June 2023
Live music is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest experiences a human can have. Where else can you switch off the rest of the world and take yourself to somewhere truly transcendental? I don’t think casual music fans get this, the ones who chat at gigs, who see live performances as a glorified way to catch up with friends, get really drunk and have something to share on Instagram to say “I was there”. Those of us who truly live for music get something very different from a gig and this show from The Aristocrats totally embodied what live music is all about.
The venue was full to the brim with real music people, an interesting mix of gender and age (much more diverse than most prog shows). This was a sanctuary in the heart of Bristol, a place where likeminded souls could free themselves from the shackles of society and be at one with some of the greatest musicians on the planet.
I didn’t know The Aristocrats music very well going into this gig, I’d listened to a few tracks here and there but hadn’t fully submerged myself into the back catalogue prior to seeing them in the flesh. I’ll be honest, I did worry that the level of virtuosity on display might have made the whole thing a bit pretentious and purely a chance for the ultimate power trio supergroup to flex their musical muscles like a trio of strutting peacocks. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried. This gig was so much fun I feel sorry for other shows in comparison.
They played a few brand new songs, a few old songs and threw in some improvisation to create a heady mix that made a Thursday night in Bristol something very special indeed. The set list isn’t really that important, it was the whole experience that wowed me. The chat between songs by all three band members, giving insight into the inspiration for each number was just as interesting as the music. All three of the band members write tracks and I loved how they each have the ability to write for each other, not just as a means to showboat their own prowess. The warmth between the musicians and outwards to the crowd at this sold out gig was palpable. I laughed more than I have in some comedy shows, I really wasn’t prepared for how good this was going to be.
Live music for me has always been a kinetic experience. If it’s a seated gig I tend to end up playing ‘drums’ on my thighs with my hands. And when a sweet guitar solo lands I’m gurning and contorting my face in what’s been called my noodling face. I often feel self-conscious about this, especially when people bring it up or point it out. I had no such worries at the show, as the whole place was in the same physically affected euphoric state. Every twitch I had was met with similar all around me, every scrunched up face was mirrored by twenty others. I felt this music in every muscle, every nerve, every fibre of my being. It wasn’t just all the people packed into the sweaty venue who were physically connected though, this extended to and flowed through the band themselves. They love what they do, they lift each other up while they play and draw on the almost electric current flowing from band to audience and back again.
Guthrie Govan plays guitar with so much pure skill but also a sense of wild abandonment, his own noodling faces while he plays some mind boggling solos make mine look positively pedestrian. And when he speaks, with his genteel English tones, talking about rockhopper policemen or historian ne’er-do-wells you can’t help but take it all in. Drummer Marco Minnemann is someone I instinctively want to go out drinking with. Getting to be so close to the stage I could see not only how much he was throwing into his sublime drumming, but also the sheer unadulterated joy he experienced as he played. The drum solo in their new ’90s dance inspired track Aristoclub was quite simply mesmerising. Brian Beller does most of the talking, taking the Mike Portnoy in Flying Colors approach in many ways. He’s as charming and funny as he is absurdly good at playing bass. And he wrote probably my favourite number of the night The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde.
Growing up, my Dad used to tell me how talented a pianist Les Dawson must have been to play the piano intentionally badly. The Aristocrats can lampoon, spoof and ridicule every genre in the book too, because they are super humanly talented. No one should be able to play as well as each musician in this band, let alone pull it together as one unit. Despite being English, German and American respectively, it’s quite possible The Aristocrats have been beamed here from space, based on this performance. If that is the case then I am more than happy to bow down to our new musical masters.
I’m sure they all love playing with the likes of Hans Zimmer, Steven Wilson and Steve Vai, but I get the feeling this band is their collective true calling. This is the three of them as their truest selves and being able to witness that up close was a humbling and life affirming experience. The only disappointment for me was that the T-shirt I wanted wasn’t available in my size.
Three distinctive personalities, three ridiculously talented musicians, lots of squeaky pigs, one squeaky chicken and one phenomenal experience for everyone there. Every real music fan deserves to see The Aristocrats at least once in their lives and I plan to make sure I see them on every tour from now on.
Hey… Where’s My Drink Package?
The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde
Aristoclub (with drum solo)
Through The Flower
Guthrie Govan – Guitar
Bryan Beller – Bass
Marco Minnemann – Drums