Stick Men

August 11, 2017
The Van Dyck
Schenectady, NY

Review by Dave Gardiner
Photos by Stan Johnson

Stick Men (bassist Tony Levin, drummer Pat Mastelotto, and guitarist Markus Reuter) made a triumphant return to the intimate setting of the Van Dyck in the historic Stockade district of Schenectady with two excellent shows to kick off their 20-city tour in support of their 2016 Prog Noir studio album and forthcoming live album, Roppongi – Live in Tokyo 2017.

The trio wear their progressive rock badges proudly and did not disappoint the loyal fans at the Van Dyck, a nice room even though on this rainy night, the roof had a few small leaks on the stage area, which they dealt with in a humorous light.

The first of two shows started with a tune called “Hide The Trees,” on which Levin’s Chapman stick created some interesting sounds with an almost percussive effect, alongside the intricate lead melodies from Reuter’s eight-string, self-designed instrument that resembles a guitar, but has the ability to do so much more with the technique of touching the strings on the fret board to create an array of unique sounds. Mastelotto displayed intense energy during both shows on his customized kit.

Most of the material was drawn from Prog Noir, though through the magic of improvisation, the songs were vast departures from their studio counterparts and never sounded the same twice over the course of the two shows. Noticing the Van Dyk serves food and craft beer, Levin remarked after a couple of songs how great it is for people to enjoy dinner while listening to Stick Men’s style of progressive rock.

They played “Schatten,” a new song written by Levin and Reuter in Berlin, during both sets. A different version played during the second show was described by Levin as a tribute to the late Allan Holdsworth. There was an enticing reading of “Lark Tongues In Aspic, Part Two” that got King Crimson fans excited. “Plutonium” found Levin on vocals and was meticulously executed with tremendous energy.

I started feeling like I was on a vacation with good friends and each song was like a new road. The intense music made me visualize a journey down each path with sights and sounds that were stimulating to the senses. These complicated, yet beautiful songs were easy to listen to and designed for total escapism, driven by the power of Mastelotto’s precision drumming that holds the music together. Meanwhile, Reuter and Levin weaved their notes in and out, sharing bass parts, rhythm parts and connecting everything with impeccable timing.

“Horatio” was dedicated to their friend Leonard who was selling merchandise out front. “Mantra” had my imagination visualizing all sorts of interesting thoughts. The first performance ended with a 2002 King Crimson insturmental called “Level 5.”

The second show offered the same roads with different scenery, including a cover of Mike Oldfield’s “Mirage,” a song Reuter had heard at his first concert as a youth. Stick Men took the late show into the stratosphere and kept the music fresh with plenty on-the-spot improvisations. A great rendition of “Breathless,” from King Crimson leader Robert Fripp’s Exposure” album, was played before “Sepia” from Stick Men’s 2013 Deep album.

Before calling it a night, they treated the audience to Crimson’s “Sartori In Tangiers,” before closing with “Prog Noir,” featuring some soulful vocals from Levin, and an improvisational “Open.”

My vacation at the Van Dyck came to an end as I chatted it up with Mastelotto about the current King Crimson tour. If you love King Crimson and progressive rock in general, take a trip with Stick Men while they are on the road. It’s quite an adventure.

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