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Review of Sylvian-Fripp's show in Berkeley, CA, USA


Date Submitted: 29-Oct-93
Submitted By: John Relph (relph at sgi dot com)

David Sylvian & Robert Fripp, Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley
28 October 1993
with Michael Brook

We arrived at the Zellerbach in plenty of time, unlike most of the attendees. So we were able to get our seats before Michael Brook took the stage. I also took the time to buy a concert tee-shirt, a lovely purple item with the Sf logo on the left breast and graphics describing the tour on the reverse. I did not buy one of the concert programmes, although they were very nicely done, very high quality graphics. One expects no less from Mr Sylvian.

For those of you ignorant of Michael Brook, he was the guitarist with Martha And The Muffins (later known as M+M), the Canadian pop group responsible for the song "Echo Beach" and others. He has since been doing a number of more ambient and new age styled projects, including solo projects and work with Brian Eno and others. He has also made some contributions to electric guitar effects, including the "infinite guitar", an effect that The Edge of U2 used ad nauseum.

Mr Brook played five or six solo songs, accompanied by samples of his playing that he built up on the fly. He started out the set by saying that he was still on Tokyo time, which meant it felt like four in the morning to him. He made interesting use of guitar synthesisers and delay effects, so that sometimes he was playing rhythm and other times sounded like a string section. His song "Cora" sounded like the African harp of the same name, but he added, `not as good'. He played a minimal song called "E.R.R." which he said stood for "Echo Repeat Revelation", because a specific echo effect inspired the song, which used an offbeat rhythm against a delay to give a syncopated, and ofttimes interesting effect. (I believe the people behind me said something about it sounding like Pink Floyd.) Mr Brook also mentioned that it was the custom in Japan to bring gifts for the performers (and that they would willingly be accepted).

The only thing that detracted from an otherwise pleasant, although not outstanding, performance was the fact that at least two-thirds of the audience arrived during his set, talking and making noise as they found their seats. I think Mr Brook (and the audience who chose to listen to him) deserved more respect than the arriving audience showed.

After a half-an-hour interval David Sylvian & Robert Fripp took the stage. Mr Sylvian was dressed in a natty outfit, stylish trousers and vest over a white shirt; he played a Steinburger guitar. Mr Fripp wore one of his usual Japanese- styled blouses with wide sleeves; he had two Gibson Les Paul guitars, one black and one blonde, although he played the black guitar exclusively. Jerry Marotta, on drum kit, was wearing an Einstuerzende Neubauten tee-shirt. Mr Brook, who was also part of the band during the main concert, was wearing a white shirt and dark trousers; he played the same guitar he had played as the opening act, and in the same place on stage. Trey Gunn was wearing something so nondescript that it doesn't bear describing.

They launched directly into "Jean the Birdman". From that point it all becomes a blur in my memory. I know they played "Darshan", "The First Day", "Gone To Earth", "Brightness Falls", "Earthbound - Starblind", "Every Colour You Are", "River Man" (I'm not sure of this one), "Firepower", "God's Monkey", and they might have played "20th Century Dreaming". But of in what order they were played I am totally forgetful. "Gone To Earth" was nearly unrecognisable in a new pop setting, only the lyrics knew for sure. "River Man" was wonderful; it was nice to hear it live in a powerful setting, and Mr Gunn provided the harmony vocal. Oddly enough, Mr Gunn also chanted "F I R E P O W E R" during the performance of that song, though I would have guessed Mr Sylvian from listening to the record. "The First Day" is a lovely ballad, very nicely performed, featuring subtle touches of melodic guitar on Mr Fripp's part and understated underpinning from Mr Gunn. During one piece Mr Marotta played a small shaker with one hand while providing a sparse and delicious hip-hop beat with the other hand and one foot, playing almost solely a sampled snare and his heavy kick bass drum (but my mind can't tell me which piece this was, any help out there?). But the highlight of the evening had to be "Darshan". The crescendo of this piece featured Mr Fripp and Mr Brook exchanging high-powered slashing chords (possibly `diabolus en musica'), clashing and harmonising with equal power, preceded and followed by amazing solos on Mr Fripp's part. His fingers moved as I have never seen, and he has become a student of the tapping method, something which I believe he has only dabbled with in the past. He used the tapping technique extensively during the show. He also picked lead runs at excruciating and unbelievable speed, never missing a note. I know I had a hard time believing it. On the record "Darshan" seems to last far too long, but on stage, it took on a whole new dimension, becoming a vehicle which transported the band, and the audience, to another level. And I do believe Mr Sylvian, Mr Fripp, and company, had a good time making it happen. (I know I had a good time.)

Did I mention that the concert was surprisingly loud? Mr Brook's performance was at a pleasant volume, but when Sf took the stage, their first blast put me back in my seat. There were only a few spots during the show where some particularly grating noise made me want to cover my ears (usually produced by Mr Fripp).

Afterwards, since Jennie and I (and our ears) were tired, we did not stick around, so I'm sorry I didn't get to meet any fellow netheads. Maybe next time. After all, it wasn't that long since the Robert Fripp String Quintet performance.

-- John


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