Tony Levin Band
Review and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisMost session players don't have any instantly recognizable characteristics, let alone several notable traits like Tony Levin- the seasoned bassist best known for his time spent in the '80s incarnation of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel's band. Not only is Levin a master of his craft, but his towering frame, shiny bald head, and thick brown mustache have given him a look that's only grown more distinguished in time. And after looking beyond those two major touring acts on his resume, one will note an endless array of collaborations, including time spent with John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, and James Taylor. It's that unparalleled ammunition, along with his unique playing style that's allowed Levin to have a prosperous career outside of "behind the scenes" work, both in a solo capacity and as leader of the Tony Levin Band.
Along with fellow notables Larry Fast (synthesizer), Jesse Gress (electric guitar) and Jerry Marotta (drums) Levin is currently maintaining fame outside the shadow of his checkered past, thanks to their daring exploration and keen ability to unite within improvisational settings. Such a scene can be found in ample doses on the Tony Levin Band's latest CD Double Espresso, a live career retrospective double disc that's also the primary subject of their latest tour. Aside from including solo material from the band's acclaimed line of previous projects, the disc features dusted off gems from Levin's past sessions, as well as recreations of other band's hits interpreted through a progressive rock looking glass.
On the Chicago stop of the Double Espresso tour, the band fell into good graces with the crowd from the start, unveiling the King Crimson cult classic "Sleepless" (featuring Marotta on vocals) along with the blustering extended instrumental "Pieces of the Sun." Both cuts featured slickly orchestrated beats, tightly packed chord progressions, and efficient transitions that paved the way for the playfulness of fellow wordless cuts "Silhouette" and "Ooze." The lighthearted mood continued as Levin and company turned in the spying standard "Peter Gunn" (for all the James Bond fans in the house) followed by a quirky recreation of oldie "Tequila" with a scaled back lounge-like pace laced with Marotta's sultry saxophone.
However, the true gems of the evening were a seemingly spontaneous version of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," followed by a replica of Genesis' early era selection "Back in New York City." On paper the two songs may not look like the most congruent combinations, but somehow Levin and his mates pulled off the pair with flying colors, building the proper bridge to the glorious and peace perpetuating "Utopia" finale. A pair of encores continued to lift the audiences' mood, starting with a blazing bang out of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" proceeded by the Crimson favorite "Elephant Talk" to bring the evening full circle. Levin will continue on the road in this format through spring before returning to Peter Gabriel's "Growing Up" tour, slated to return to the Chicago/Milwaukee area in late June.
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