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

2019-11-07
Glenn Smith RIP – Glenn Smith, founder, mandolinist, and primary composer of the DeLand, Florida based prog / fusion band Magnatar, passed away on October 18th 2019 at the age of 68, after a brief illness.  » Read more

2019-11-04
Dino Brassea RIP – Word reaches us of the passing of Dino Brassea, who sang and played flute in Cast for many years. By our count, Brassea appeared on 11 Cast albums between 1994 and 2002. He also released music as a solo artist. » Read more

2019-10-06
Ginger Baker RIP – Legendary English drummer Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80. After coming to fame with Cream in the 60s alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, he became one of the most recognized and influential drummers of the rock era. On September 25, his family announced that he was critically ill, and on October 6 his death was confirmed. » Read more

2019-08-20
Alex's Hand Seeks Spa Treatment – American / European band Alex's Hand has a new album in the works called Hungarian Spa, which looks to be their biggest and best yet, featuring a large roster of guest musicians. They're seeking funding to take the project on the road, and are looking for help from the crowd of wisdom. » Read more

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

November - The First of November – Thirty seconds into the first cut you'll swear you're listening to some lost Peter Gabriel album from around 1980. This track, "Africa, Where Are You," has all of the phrasing and style down pat,...  (1995) » Read more

The Spacious Mind - Sailing the Seagoat – Here's an interesting concept. Take simple folk ideas, add a little psychedelic electronics and synth, add a few flute and bongo lines and some very radio-friendly vocals and brew up some long,...  (1996) » Read more

John Wetton & Richard Palmer-James - Monkey Business 1972-1997 – When was the first time you heard “Exiles” or “The Great Deceiver” and were taken aback about the lyrics? It’s a pretty strange role to find yourself by trying to fill...  (2000) » Read more

Klaus Schulze - Revisited Reissues, Part 3 – Revisited Records has taken on the mammoth task of reissuing the entire Klaus Schulze back catalog, and these eight albums are what has been reissued so far this year. In addition to using cardboard...  (2009) » Read more

Saga - Pleasure and the Pain – This year marks the 20th anniversary of Saga. Pleasure and the Pain marks their 12th studio album, and in many ways is an apt title. This release marks a return to the 4-5 minute rock song format and...  (1997) » Read more