I’ve been dying to hear The Aristocrats for a long time. I didn’t have to hear a note to know they were going to be good. I had all the information I needed when I saw who was in the band. And when I finally did hear them play, they did not disappoint.
I figured I was in for a treat when I learned that Guthrie Govan (guitar), Bryan Beller (bass), and Marco Minnemann (drums) had formed a power trio. I’d heard Govan and Minnemann when they played for Steven Wilson. I was introduced to Beller’s talents while he held down the low end for Mike Keneally and Joe Satriani. These were three musicians of the highest order, possessing what I like to call “chops for days.” Now they would have the chance to thrive in the same band.
The band released its self-titled debut in 2011. Most bands take a song or two to get their feet wet, and get the audience loose. These guys? Not so much. They jump right into the deep end of the pool, and bring the audience along with them. Lucky us.
In any band, chemistry is key. In a power trio, that axiom can be multiplied tenfold. Listening is just as important as playing, if not more so. These guys have that skill covered, no problem.
What I like most about these guys is that they are a band. No one player is dominant. Each player gets a chance to lead, but all are part of a whole. In many groups, I can tell who the dominant songwriter is almost immediately, because his instrument is most often at the front of the mix. That isn’t the case here. Not only do The Aristocrats share songwriting duties, one band member’s composition can be dominated by a different member of the group. When I heard the brutal bass groove behind “Ohhhh Noooo,” I just assumed the piece was written by Beller. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was Minnemann’s composition. I have nothing but respect for a musician who gives another member of the band a chance to thrive.
It would be easy for a group like this to dissolve into a vortex of pretension and self-indulgence. I’ve heard more than one or two bands loaded with talented musicians who don’t know how to get out of the way, and let the song become what it needs to be. In other words, they overplay. The Aristocrats don’t have that problem. They know how to take a step back, and give the composition a chance to breathe. Even if said composition is moving at a mile a minute.
Of the three CDs I have, I like Culture Clash (their second release, from 2013) the best. But each album has its own merits, and is brilliant in its own way. Tres Caballeros (released in 2015) sounds like a band putting its sense of humor on display. The Aristocrats clearly take music seriously, but they do so without taking themselves too seriously. There is a great sense of fun here.
There are two live releases available from this band, and I plan for them to be on my media shelf very, very soon. As much as I appreciate a band’s ability to tear the roof off a studio, I love it even more when they can do it on stage.
I sincerely hope The Aristocrats have a lengthy shelf life, and I get to see them in person very soon. Until then, it looks like another band has earned its way into heavy rotation on my CD player.