When it comes to instrumental music, progressive rock fans are pretty divided. One half states that without a proper vocalist, the music presented is "too" hard or too pretentious to listen to, while the other half embraces the technical aspects that usually go hand in hand with this genre. When it comes to The Aristocrats, I guess the devotees of the instrumental genre will be delighted and I am sure the other half will totally respect the music these guys make, due to the fact all three members are highly regarded in either the progressive rock scene, or the instrumental scene. Guitarist Guthrie Govan was a member of Asia in the past, but nowadays is better known as guitar player for Steven Wilson. Instrumental fans should also know him from his stunning solo release Erotic Cakes. Bass player Bryan Beller used to play with both Zappa's and more recently he has toured with Mike Keneally and Joe Satriani. Drummer Marco Minnemann's list is hardly to describe, but as you might know, he was so lucky not to be picked as Dream Theater's new drummer, accompanies both Steven Wilson and Joe Satriani on their tours and albums and has made numerous solo albums on the side.
Usually instrumental music is either focused around a guitar hero, like Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. Here the name giver of the band/project has to stand in the spotlight and musically gets all the attention. Other bands are focussed around several super musicians, like Portnoy/Petrucci's LTE, Planet X or PSMS. Projects that are very technical and tend to slightly move towards the fusion side of music. I think The Aristocrats are equally technical and just as gifted as all musicians mentioned before, but they certainly add something special to their music. Especially when you get to see them live; this DVD is a very good example to see what I am talking about. You will notice that there are not just three musicians on stage, but also three friends playing, just having fun and enjoying each other's company. In the meantime they play virtuoso music, technical at a very high level, making it look like it is easy to play. Total respect from my side for the way it shows.
After the release of Boing, We'll Do It Live, which was my DVD of the year, The Aristocrats recorded their album Culture Clash (2013). The album reviewed now is the result of the tour they did to promote their second studio album. Usually when an album is released with live recordings you get a DVD with a whole show, accompanied by the CD with the same show, with sometimes lacking some compositions. Most of the time only the DVD gets its spins and the poor CD stays in the cover. Culture Clash Live is different; a number of shows were filmed and recorded during the tour and basically there are only three songs that are represented on the DVD as well as on the CD. So as an example Ohhh Nooo on the DVD is a recording from their Bangkok concert, while on the CD the same recording is from the Wittier concert in California, USA. Besides tremendous recordings of intelligent compositions the DVD shows humorous parts of The Aristocrats live concerts; check out the interaction of the pig and the chicken during Get It Like That or the way the blues totally gets messed up during Blues Fuckers; a song that got The Aristocrat a “parental advisory” sticker in the USA. Regarding an all instrumental album, this again shows the hypocritical minds of certain inhibitors of this country. Most compositions are accompanied by a spoken intro, where one of the band members tells an anecdote about the way a song has been written or about the intentions of the composition to come. Both CD and DVD have a perfect sound and when you watch the DVD it shows the way The Aristocrats have to perform; in Mexico, Bangkok and Japan, the band gets to perform on a huge stage, with perfect lighting, while the Manchester concert is filmed with lesser light and an audience that literally can touch the band on stage and due to the lack of space, Bryan almost knocks over a mic stand during the opening. Living The Dream is recorded on a -for me as a regular visitor- average sized stage in the Netherlands, including smoke.
Ok, so how should I grant this spectacular piece of music? Being familiar with the compositions, every time I see or hear one of the band's live recordings, something new or special has been added. The aforementioned visible pleasure on the stage does reflect on the audiences, therefore on me as well and makes the DVD a very interesting one to watch, even of people that are not really into instrumental music. The CD has been spinning numerous times when I was driving my car and is a true addition to the package, for reasons shown above. I guess you can read between the lines and feel there is a five star reward on its way. A very well deserved one. Five stars for a five star band.
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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