What: featuring Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter/Watter. 8 p.m. May 13 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road in Louisville. $15, $18. 502-584-8088. Headlinerslouisville.com.
Let us first define the word stick as it relates to the prog adventures of the trio known as Stick Men. It refers to the multi-stringed electric instrument known as the Chapman Stick. With roots that date to the late 1960s, the Stick is usually viewed as a variation of a bass guitar. It has sometimes adhered to a bass role when the instrument began gaining prominence in 1980s and ’90s, but the Stick is designed for its strings to be tapped instead of plucked. Because of that, it can create myriad sounds, from guitar-like squalls to keyboard-like ambiance to comparatively conventional bass patterns and more.
Few musicians have done more to promote and pioneer the role of the Stick than Tony Levin. An acclaimed bassist with a dossier that seemingly stretches for miles (Paul Simon, John Lennon, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and Pink Floyd are among the dozens of high-profile artists whose recordings feature his playing), Levin has used the orchestral possibilities of the Stick with two celebrated prog-related acts he has been associated closely with for more than three decades: Peter Gabriel and King Crimson.
Stick Men has its origins in a 2007 solo album by Levin called Stick Man that whittled down the more expansive prog sounds of his previous recordings to a tight combo format that featured fellow King Crimson cohort Pat Mastelotto on drums. The band’s first official Stick Men album, Soup, was released in 2010. Michael Bernier and his eventual replacement, Markus Reuter, joined Levin and Mastelotto as a second Stick player.
So what does all this mean in terms of the music Stick Men play, and why are we recommending you take a road trip to Louisville tonight to take in the band’s first-ever Kentucky performance?
The answer comes into view on two of the trio’s most recent recordings. The 2014 retrospective album Supercollider boasts clipped, precise but beat-heavy electric excursions reminiscent of 2000-era King Crimson (Absalom), epic-scale prog works with the Stick revealing multiple guitar and keyboard impressions (Whale Watch) and refreshing rethinking on a variety of material from outside sources, including a variation of Stravinsky’s Firebird and an update of King Crimson mate Robert Fripp’s Breathless.
The other is the recent live album Midori, which chronicles two of the four Japanese concerts that Stick Men performed, with Crimson alumnus David Cross on violin, that expanded the band into a quartet in April 2015. The album also has the band digging deeper into the Crimson catalogue with an outrageous 12-minute view of 1984’s funereal sounding Industry before snapping to attention with the vintage prog charge of 1973’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2.
Friday night’s performance will be part of a brief tour before Levin reconvenes with his two famous employers. Next month, he teams again with Gabriel for a summer tour of North America co-headlined by Sting. In September, he will be back with the current seven-member incarnation of Crimson for a summer tour of Europe.
The Louisville trio Watter — guitarist/keyboardist Zak Riles, keyboardist Tyler Trotter and percussionist Britt Walford — will open. Levin contributed to the band’s 2014 album This World.
For a closer look at the current Stick Men tour, check out Levin’s longrunning blog at Papabear.com.
▪ Maryland-turned-Texas songsmith Joe Pug is back this weekend to share the story-songs of his fine 2015 album Windfall, which was recorded locally with producer Duane Lundy. Pug plays Sunday at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Drive (9 p.m., $10). Call 859-523-5558 or go to Willieslocallyknown.com.
▪ The newest project of fiddler, composer and educator Mark O’Connor is the O’Connor Band, a family outfit featuring wife Maggie (also on fiddle), son Forrest (on mandolin) and future daughter-in-law Kate Lee (on third fiddle). Augmented by guitarist Joe Smart and bassist-banjoist Geoff Saunders, the band will preview music from its debut album, scheduled for release this summer, at Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street (6:45 p.m, $10). Call 859-252-8888, 859-280-2218 or go to Lexingtonlyric.tix.com.
▪ Kentucky born neo-country sensation Sturgill Simpson returns to Central Kentucky for the first time in three years next week at the Opera House. Alas, the 8:30 p.m. performances on May 16 and 17 are sold out, as is a May 22 show at the Louisville Palace. In Sunday’s Living section, we’ll trace Simpson’s career from his Lexington beginnings with Sunday Valley to the current popularity of his third solo album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.