Live Review: The Aristocrats at Sala But (Madrid, Spain) (4/02/20)

The witty tres caballeros are one of the most amusing instrumental evenings of ground-breaking jazz fusion and ingenious dexterity one can attend if you are fond of perplexing techniques and rhythms and satirical sketches. If you bring a receptive mindset, this trio will certainly act to unfasten your intellectual processes.

The Aristocrats, who have just turned nine years old, were born when the three members, Guthrie Govan (guitar), Bryan Beller (bass guitar) and Marco Minnemann (drums), got together during a jam session at NAMM (National Assotiation of Music Merchants) in January 2011. They got on so well that, when they got off the stage, they felt the need to write songs, perform and speak with one voice. Later that year, they released their debut self-titled album, “The Aristocrats” (2011). From then on, they have released following the same pattern: nine songs in each album, with each band member writing three of the nine. Their second studio album, “Culture Clash” (2013), pays homage to its name including a clash of genres, a widely-used recipe that the band frequently employs both for recording and playing live. Their discography is completed with “Tres Caballeros” (2015) and their newest release, “You Know What…?” (2019).

At five to eight, fifty minutes before the show began, there was a lengthy almost male-only line that went around two corners. The venue, Sala But, can hold a little more than a thousand fans, but in reality this evening held a little less considering that the first floor above the ground was closed to the public. The audience was at ease and notably respectful, listening attentively to the band members’ outlandish anecdotes, cheerfully pitching in to clap or sing along in different time signatures or accents (as instructed to do so by Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann) and reforming the standing area of the nightclub from a dancing area to the same energy of a cozy pub where three extremely talented musicians simply had run into each other and settled on jamming together.

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Guthrie Govan (left) and Marco Minnemann (right)

The short number of twelve songs made up the performance, but even if that comes across as a succinct setlist, it lasted two hours and a few minutes. The show was extended mainly because of the improvised solos, including a completely astonishing and progressively morphing (in cadence, intensity and structure) drum solo by Marco Minnemann which caused countless shouts of joy; and because of the peculiar personal incidents the band members described thoroughly to go into detail about the reasons of their songwriting.

Guthrie Govan elaborated upon the story behind one of his three songs of the new record, ‘Last Orders’ (You Know What…?, 2019), where he chose to write about the saddest thing in the world for him. “At twenty to eleven, pubs in the UK ring a bell calling out for the last [beer] orders”, he said. “At eleven, no more beer will be served. Not really acceptable”. Moments later the band threw themselves in a slow, sensitive and, to some extent, lo-fi ballad sound, highly reverbed, brought to life by Guthrie’s beer misfortune. However, not only could he embrace a delicate romantic attitude, but also a satirical edge when he introduced his second song in the album, ‘Spanish Eddie’ (You Know What…?, 2019) and said that there simply was no back story. No glamour. But it did not matter, as the glamour flew from his hands as he caressed the strings full steam ahead. Spanish guitar references and progressive patterns? Once again, a new blend of genres and styles that The Aristocrats had brought to the stage so authentically, so naturally.

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As it happens, Govan, Beller and Minnemann are proficient musically. But they could have pursued a career in the stand-up comedy industry and made it all the same. Bassist Bryan Beller unfolded the story behind ‘D Grade Fuck Movie Jam’ (You Know What…?, 2019). “We usually receive great reviews from the press, but there was this one guy who said we were writing bad music for a bad porno movie“. Hence he decided to create a proper bad song for a bad porno movie with wah-wah guitar and a cow bell. Fans broke out laughing when Bryan said that he had tracked down a couple who had stolen his basses through Facebook, an event resulting in the melodic ‘The Ballad of Bonnie And Clyde’ (You Know What…?, 2019). Eventually the caricatural vignettes onstage were so hilarious that Marco and Bryan were competing with plastic squeezy chickens.

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Live sound could have been improved a little by bringing down the low frequencies, as Bryan’s bass swallowed up Marco’s highest frequencies from the drumkit and Guthrie’s highest notes. Marco Minnemann was in the spotlight for most of the evening considering his phenomenal versatility, finesse and tenacity on the kit, lest we forget his tireless smiles. To put it differently, Marco has the refinement of a Vespa, the virility of a Harley-Davidson, the velocity of a Ducati Panigale and the confidence of a Honda.

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The Aristocrats offer a rare and remarkable reality where artistry, originality, fun and games all have great room in a small stage, guarded by modest musicians who have always been in the Top 10s.


If you feel like attending one of The Aristocrats’ “You Know What…?” shows, check out their full touring schedule here.

Check out the full setlist here.

Special thanks to Riccardo and Rhiannon.

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