Exposé Online banner

I suppose there are many contenders for the title of Hardest Working Band, but luckily that’s not a real contest, and certainly hard work alone is no gauge of worthiness. Since Stick Men got started as a development of Tony Levin’s Stick Man album ten years ago, the band has kept the new material coming, with studio and live releases getting into double digits (depending on how you count multiple versions of some of the live albums).

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-02-10

photography by Danette Davis

Tony Levin on stage with Stick Men 2017, photo by Danette DavisIn addition to their work with this band, all three members have substantial commitments to other projects. Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto are both in the current version of King Crimson; Levin also tours and records with his brother Pete with a jazz group, and has appeared as a guest on many albums by diverse artists; Mastelotto also has Naked Truth, O.R.k., and copious session work. Markus Reuter is practically a one-man music factory, with everything from symphonic works to solo recordings to collaborations and long-standing projects like Centrozoon and Tuner (which also includes Mastelotto).

But somehow they find time to tour extensively as Stick Men, and given their networks of musical connections, there are plenty of collaborators to be found as guests. At times, they’ve brought on David Cross (for the Midori shows in Japan), Mel Collins (just recently in Japan), and Trey Gunn (for some of the US dates on the Prog Noir tour). The second leg of the current tour kicked off with two nights at the Triple Door in Seattle, and I was lucky enough to catch both, thanks to Moonjune head and tour manager Leonardo Pavkovic.

Trey Gunn started off the shows with a solo set involving a complex looping setup that allowed him to do many things not normally possible with simple loopers. He could create arrangements of tunes built out of parts played live, and assemble them on the fly into more than just simple repetitions. Listeners familiar with his solo material would have recognized several pieces, notably “Arrakis” from The Third Star (1996), which has a memorable melody. He’s developed a new technique of playing his Warr guitar horizontally across his lap while he sits (like this). His set was well-received by the audience, providing the right balance of mood and technique to set the stage for the main attraction.

Markus Reuter on stage with Stick Men 2017, photo by Danette DavisThe setlists for the two nights varied slightly, bringing together tunes from most of the Stick Men albums, a few choice King Crimson pieces, some improvisations, and Reuter’s arrangement of Mike Oldfield’s “Mirage” from QE2 (1980). There were so many high points it’s almost pointless to describe how wonderful this band is live. They navigate complex music so smoothly it sounds simple, and play simple music so well it sounds complex.

Since I’m writing about it, I’ll pick a few choice moments. The Crimson track “Level Five” from 2001 was great both nights, and seems to be a standard part of the set. “Hide the Trees” is a strong part of the sets. “Plutonium” is lots of fun, a combination of amusing and impressive. For some reason, the first night started right out of the gate with “Red” while the second night began with Reuter doing a soundscape, and as much as I loved hearing “Red,” the ambient washes of Reuter’s soundscape were the ideal start to a show.

With former bandmate Gunn in the house, the obvious question on many minds in the audience was whether he would come out later and join Stick Men on stage. That didn't happen the first night due to technical problems with some of the gear on stage, but it was fixed for the second show, and there was a little Levin-Mastelotto-Gunn King Crimson reunion — not to mention a variety show for different tapping instruments, with Levin's Chapman Stick, Reuter's Touch Guitar, and Gunn's Warr.

Pat Mastelotto on stage with Stick Men 2017, photo by Danette DavisThe music of Stick Men is clearly a development from idioms developed originally by King Crimson, incorporating the jarring heavy riffs of Red, the rhythmic motifs of the 80s albums, and the integrated sound of the 90s band. But there’s more to it than that. There is a lyrical quality to much of their music that can really sink its hooks into you — I’m going to say Levin brings that to the table, because it’s something his previous solo albums also had. A superficial listener might say that the looping soundscapes Reuter creates are similar to Robert Fripp’s famous Frippertronics, but closer attention shows that they’re quite different, with different technologies behind them and some really amazing subtleties.

No doubt Stick Men to be back at it again before long. Levin and Mastelotto will be part of King Crimson’s summer North America tour, but after that… it surely won’t be long for this gang.

Enduring thanks to Leonardo Pavkovic and to Tony Levin, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto, and Trey Gunn for their generosity and talent.


Filed under: Concerts

Related artist(s): Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Stick Men, Trey Gunn

Latest news

2020-03-24
Bill Rieflin RIP – The sad news reaches us today of Bill Rieflin's death. Rieflin was best known as a drummer in bands ranging from post-punk to industrial to indie-rock to progressive rock, including work with The Blackouts, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Land, and King Crimson. Rieflin had been battling cancer for several years, and succumbed to it on March 24. He was 59. » Read more

2020-03-17
Cruise to the Edge and Seaprog 2020 Festivals Postponed – The worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus has started to produce casualties in the music world, and festivals are not immune. We've had word that both the Cruise to the Edge (originally slated for March 27 - April 1) and Seaprog (originally June 5-7) have been postponed to later dates, with those dates to be announced. » Read more

2020-03-06
McCoy Typer RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of one of the most influential pianists in the history of jazz, McCoy Tyner. His tenure with John Coltrane in the early 60s includes some of the most treasured recordings of the era, including My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. After leaving Coltrane's group, he had a long and successful solo career. He was 81. » Read more

2020-02-18
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Tomorrow - Tomorrow – Tomorrow's eponymous and only release is a solid example of 60s psychedelia featuring a precociously talented young guitarist named Steve Howe. It probably would have fared better commercially if not...  (2007) » Read more

Jean Pascal Boffo - La Boîte à Musique – On La Boîte à Musique, guitarist Jean Pascal Boffo demonstrates yet again why he’s France’s answer to Steve Hackett. With every album, he reinvents himself into something new and yet familiar....  (2008) » Read more

A Triggering Myth - Between Cages – This is the third outing for the keyboard propelled duo of Rick Eddy and Tim Drumheller, collectively known as A Triggering Myth. For anyone familiar with their previous two efforts (a self-titled...  (1996) » Read more

Oaksenham - Conquest of the Pacific – Seems like a long time since we reviewed this Armenian band’s debut live release Woden’s Eve Live; in fact it was 2002, and since then the band has been diligently working on this, their...  (2007) » Read more

Geno White - Standing in Stereo – From the opening track, a maelstrom of Hendrix-like feedback mixed with chunky blasts of power rock, it's obvious that White's latest release will be a guitarist's guitar album. Joining...  (1997) » Read more