If you weren't one of the hundreds of people crowded around the Bud Light Stage Wednesday to witness the bizarre majesty of Adrian Belew's guitar playing, you missed one of the highlights of Riverbend so far.
Belew has a decades-long career that includes stints with the Talking Heads, Frank Zappa and King Crimson, as well as session work as a guitarist for everyone from Paul Simon and David Bowie to Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
His wonderfully experimental style centers on electronically bending and distorting notes beyond all semblance of ordinary. He uses loops and effects pedals to create an incredibly diverse range of sounds that form stimulating, evocative atmospheres. At one point, it sounded like dinosaurs having a conversation in a haunted crystal cave. (You had to be there to get what I mean.)
That might not sound like your cup of tea and if not, fair enough, you didn't miss much. The majority of us, however, were standing in slack-jawed amazement at his mastery over his instrument.
Admittedly, there were times during his 90-minute performance that got so cacophonous and bizarre (or plain loud) that my mind just couldn't digest what was going on but, for the most part, I was blown away.
The other members of his power trio, bassist Julie Slick and her brother Eric, were certainly worthy of mention as well. Throughout an incredibly complex series of highly technical pieces of music, they managed to be both incredibly precise and to maintain a high energy level. It was like jazz rock cubed.
As much fun as I've had throughout Riverbend thus far, there have been unavoidable times that I've had to miss seeing performances I've been looking forward to for months. Belew's mindblowing show would have been one of those, but I had yesterday off, which gave me the free time I needed to see it. It's going to take days to really digest what I experienced, though.
The fun continues tonight with the headlining performance I've been looking forward to the most, the B-52s. They'll take the Coke Stage at 9:30 p.m., as usual, but before then, you should make sure not to miss the following:
n The Lee Boys and The Travelin' McCourys (Bud Light Stage 7:45-9 p.m.) or the singer/songwriter round table at the same time on the TVCU Stage. I've heard great things about the former, but the latter was one of my favorite shows last year, and I'm glad to see it making a hopefully triumphant return.
n Nashville singer/songwriter Dave Barnes (Unum Stage 8-9:15 p.m.). He attended my alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University, and his performances have made him a rising star of the Music City scene in recent years.
n If you aren't a fan of rock lobsters and you've never had a hankering to visit the Love Shack, fear not, the B-52s are not the only option for late-night (relatively speaking) entertainment. You can also check out Atlanta's Angie Aparo (TVCU Stage 9:15-10:30 p.m.). He's an extremely accomplished songwriter and excellent vocalist who's a regular at Rhythm & Brews. Plus, he sang for me on my birthday last year, and if that doesn't convince you he's worth hearing, I don't know what will.
See you out there.
E-mail Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org