Reviewed by Luke Ashley
The Aristocrats aren’t pulling any punches as far as supergroups go. Between Bryan Beller (Joe Satriani, Dethklok), Guthrie Govan (Asia, Steven Wilson) and Marco Minnemann (Kreator, Necrophagist) this instrumental rock trio packs some serious prowess. Touring Australia for the first time under their third studio album, Tres Caballeros, I waited in anticipation on Thursday, October 6th to experience Melbourne’s collective mind get blown.
In pre-show rumination, Bendigo Hotel seemed like an unconventional venue choice, and I had my reservations regarding how well sound would carry out to the back. My concerns were duly quieted once I arrived at the Bendigo to find a packed house buzzing over Beller’s quad stack bass rig. A quick chat with Joel the resident sound tech assured me that the room would be singing, and it most certainly did.
The Aristocrats hit the stage with an air of nonchalance and started their set by jamming along to the track currently playing from the front of the house. They felt their way from vamping as a trio into the first track of the evening, Stupid 7. Govan immediately took the forefront with a gorgeous woodgrain Charvel and led the piece with jaw-dropping finesse – his Fractal FX8 supplying tones that ranged from the synthesised smoothness of a Jordan Rudess-esque solo to near white noise.
As The Aristocrats worked their way through the opening tracks of Tres Caballeros, each member introduced their pieces with aplomb. Having the full band tell stories pertaining to every song origin broadened the audiences’ scope of understanding and helped to paint a picture of The Aristocrats vision for each piece. A rotating front-man for each song was incredibly engaging and made you invest into the individual performance just as much as the full product. Minnemann and Govan showed absurd synchronicity during Jack’s Back, with Beller reprising an unstrained snare during Texas Crazypants.
Stage lighting remained sparse throughout most of the performance and outlined a more casual tone for the show, letting the music do the talking on its own merits. It worked in tandem with the mood of the crowd – an appreciation of virtuosity before the explosive entertainment that one can expect from a rock show. The crowd kept grounded during Pressure Relief until Minnemann stole the song, playing a synth single-handed on his phone app while maintaining a solid groove.
At this point, it was very apparent that I was witnessing three artists at the top of their game. Constant time signature changes and tempo variations were fantastic but expected; masterful control of dynamic range with minimal compression was what really caught me off guard. Most acts could not even begin to emulate the sense of authenticity that came from the stage; it felt so raw and freeform even though I knew The Aristocrats has played these cadences a thousand times before. It felt like a refined jam session with every member bouncing off one another, the arrangements made to be performed live.
The title track of Culture Clash gave way for a venture into their quirky 2013 works. I never thought I would watch an international rock show making extensive use of squeezable farm animals, yet here I was. The mid-song banter and narrative of Louisville Stomp was reminiscent of a Frank Zappa performance (possibly due to Beller’s time working with Frank’s son, Dweezil) and displayed that they aren’t afraid to sacrifice sound quality for straight dumb fun.
Minnemann commandeered the whole venue in Desert Tornado with the most incredible fifteen minutes of frenetic percussion I have seen. Technically infallible, passionate and entertaining to watch, he earned himself a nice break during Smuggler’s Corridor. Getting the whole room to chant in assorted registers and voices a la Cookie Monster was a fun interactive addition that ensured the fourth wall was well and truly broken for the night.
The venue was lit up with smiles as The Aristocrats belted out a killer rendition of Kentucky Meat Shower before encoring Get It Like That off their self-titled debut. It was a light-hearted close to an eclectic two hours of stellar musicianship, and I have never seen the Bendigo Hotel’s atmosphere so palpable.
For those of you yet to hear what The Aristocrats have to offer, do so now! Instrumentalists of this calibre are a rare commodity; here’s to many more years of musical genius and lunacy.