Live Review: The Aristocrats: Opium, Dublin (19/6/23)
In the same week that one-time Prime Minister Liz Truss has made headlines for her criticisms of the media, a power trio return to Ireland in the hope of binding the world’s presses together. It’s an ambitious dream, but The Aristocrats – a power trio comprising of British, German, and American members -have the musical acumen to match the aspiration. Bassist Bryan Beller does most of the talking, although Marco Minnemann – who powers the band from the back – delivers the evening’s funniest and most pointed line. “Thank you all for not going to the Pet Shop Boys,” he cries, before shuffling his cymbals a la Earl Young.
Then there’s Guthrie Govan, that bit quieter than his bandmates, but compensates by delivering a series of guitar hooks that are melodically adventurous, sonically inventive, esoteric yet seductive in their ambition. As the band enters into the opening refrains of ‘Stupid 7’, they are met with cheers of recognition from the crowd, some of them anxious to hear blues rock after three years of Covid. Ensconced onstage, the trio power through the setlist, stopping only for key changes and beer breaks. “It’s like seeing Jeff Beck,” says one crowd member, although Minnemann delivers a drum solo with more fever and flair than anything The Yardbirds would have allowed.
Free from the orchestral flourishes, ‘The Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde’ undergoes a more ragged reinvention, bolstered by Beller’s barrelling fingerwork. ‘Hey… Where’s My Drink Package?’ is a bouncier song, and was purportedly inspired by one of Minnemann’s (admittedly clawing) friends. And yet for all the rapier satire and turbo-charged energy, The Aristocrats never do anything to over-complicate the central melodies. It’s clear that these three men (their ages ranging from fifty-one to fifty-two), are doing these gigs for no other reason than passion and in an effort to appease the listeners further, Govan performs the crisp, choppy arpeggio that is heard on ‘Whisky In The Jar.’
Really, The Aristocrats are less rockstars than a collection of highly trained craftsmen; there’s no sense that groupies will be invited back to the hotel room, much less than a t.v. will be thrown out the window. Yet there’s something pleasantly 1970s-oriented to the band’s output, as the musicians (particularly Guthrie) revel in the gargantuan soundscapes that are at their disposal.
It’s Beller – all side jokes and saucy quips – who comes closest to being the band’s frontman, but that would be a disservice to the other two, both of them agile and handsome enough to front their own band. Truthfully, they sound best when they play as one lingering voice, which is particularly evident in the cosmic wonder of ‘Bad Asteroid’, a monster-space rocker, and certainly the best song of the night.
Based on this gig, it looks like their fifth album (untitled as of the time of writing), will be a worthy investment. The band sound fertile, ferverish and match-fit: there’s nary a genre that they aren’t willing to put their hands on. The Aristocrats know what they’re doing.