Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 22
etween the Sting/Peter Gabriel tour, a
revitalized King Crimson, and a new
album and tour with Stick Men, Tony Levin
is busier than ever.
Early 2016 saw him using a different set
of basses on different tours, with just one
"My NS electric upright is an integral part
of some of Peter's ballads. In Crimson, I don't
play it too often in the show - maybe three
pieces where it's crucial to have the upright
sound. My go-to is the Music Man StingRay
5 from late '80s.
"The equipment had to be separate for the
two tours, so with Peter I played another of my
Music Man 5s. On the Crimson tour, I had my
3 of a Perfect Pair yellow Sting Ray four-string
painted with the album theme, from back in
the mid '80s. That bass had been through a
lot over the years, and it looks it!"
Levin cites another vintage Sting Ray he
used on certain Gabriel songs as having been
through more-extensive road work.
"'Don't Give Up' starts with a distinctive
bass line," he recounted. "I took out the Toast
Bass, which was in a fire some years ago and
changed to an amber color, mixed with charcoal
on the body. It also dried up and lost weight
from that event, so it's wonderfully light and
punchy-sounding. I rarely travel with it because
if happened to be dropped, it'd fall apart!"
An early proponent of the Chapman Stick,
Levin uses the instrument in Stick Men, which
consists of two touch guitarists and a drummer, and has been in existence for several years.
"I'd released a solo album called Stick Man
and didn't think about playing the music live
until after the release," he recalled. "It had multiple Stick tracks. So along with my Crimson
band mate Pat Mastelotto on drums, I invited
an excellent Stick player, Michael Bernier, to
be the third member. We toured a great deal,
and that schedule wasn't working for Michael,
so he left after a few years and we brought in
Markus Reuter, who plays a touch guitar he
designed himself. It's a band that loves to play
live, and we do that a lot."
Stick Men has also released several albums,
including a limited edition live double set
recorded in Japan, joined by erstwhile King
Crimson violinist David Cross. Their most
recent album is Prog Noir, released in October
of '16. Not surprisingly, the unique lineup
means composition is also unusual.
Tony Levin: Michelle Russotto.
"Markus and I write separately, then lay the
new ideas on each other and Pat," Levin said.
"Hopefully, the music grows from that. And,
this album has more compositions than most,
with vocals on about half, so it's taking us on
a tangent from what we did recently."
While the emphasis is on stereotypical
prog-rock arrangements, Levin felt lyrics were
indispensable for some of the songs.
"Lyrically, there were things I wanted to
express that couldn't come across any other
way - a song about the experience of re-joining
King Crimson, a song about 9/11, and a song
about 'Hey, what happened to my favorite
planet, Pluto!'" he said.
An exception to most of the music heard on
Prog Noir is "A Rose in the Sand/Requiem,"
which has a lush and melodic arrangement.
"We had a loss of close family in the band,
and a requiem just seemed the right way to
deal with it," Levin explained. "It's a piece
we probably won't play live; we just wanted to
put it out there as an emotional experience.
Surprisingly, at the pre-screening, a lot of
people mentioned being moved by that piece,
so I guess it has made a connection."
Levin also confirmed that "Trey's Continuum" is a nod to fellow touch guitarist Trey
Gunn (VG, November '16), who also gigged
with King Crimson.
The tour to promote Prog Noir began in
Europe some 10 days after the end of the King
Crimson tour and was slated for performances
in America after the first of the year.
"My hope is that, regardless of the unique
instrumentation, the music itself is classic
enough that it stands up to repeated listening,
and resonates with some listeners," he said.
"I feel the material is quite special, so it's a
thrill to be letting people know about it, and
we'll be touring with the new music for quite
awhile." - Willie G. Moseley