From the archives: Tony Levin interview 2003, Part 2 of 3: on tour with Peter Gabriel


Thanks to DGM Live (King Crimson’s website) for linking directly to these series of posts, my full-length interview with King Crimson bassist/Stick man and stalwart Peter Gabriel sideman Tony Levin. See my prior post for Part 1 of this 2003 interview with this innovative bassist. And so it is on with Part 2 of the interview, Levin on his time on the Up tour…

How long have you been on tour for the Up album?

We started rehearsals last August [2002].  We did warm-ups last September.  We toured the States November, December.  We toured Europe in April, May and now it’s June, and I think that’s going to be it, although you never know.

Why return to the US for a second tour?

I didn’t ask Peter.  I don’t really know.  I know it’s a different kind of show because we’re not doing big arenas, so we don’t have the huge stage above us and the thing built– although we are adding some different material, and we’re also using some different staging ideas of Peter’s.  Actually, we haven’t done them all yet.

What’s this live show like compared to the last Up tour?

It sounds a lot better being outdoors with no ringing.  The trouble with arenas is it’s good to see a special show, but the sound is awful.  Here outdoors people are already commenting it sounds great.  They can hear everything.

How’s the live presentation of this tour compared to the last Up tour?

Huh. . . (he sighs) Golly!  You know, I’m typical of musicians.  Once I’m on the tour I don’t really think about the last one, so it’s hard to think back. I think it’s similar in that there’s quite a bit of spectacle and the spectacle is mixed in a way that Pete is very good at, with real human elements, so the people in the audience don’t feel like they’re seeing some kind of circus.  They feel involved in the show.  They feel like he’s speaking to them directly. That’s partly because he’s in the middle of the arena and it’s part because both he and Robert Lepage, the show designer, are very good at keeping the show human and communicating well.

Beyond the addition of “No Way Out,” how has the set list changed?

We’ve added “Don’t Give Up.”  Actually, I think it’s going to change from night to night, too.  I know we rehearsed “Darkness,” but we haven’t done it and “Grieve” we rehearsed, but we didn’t do that.  Give me a minute to run and get a set list while we’re talking. . .

What songs do you like to perform and why?

One that I enjoy the most is “Mercy Street,” but I don’t actually have a difficult bass part or a bass part that’s particularly up in front, but we do it in a very different way than we used to.  We all sing on it.  There used to be pretty minimal background vocals.  Now it’s really quite a vocal song, and it’s just a very good moment.  When we did it in the round stage some of us sat on the edges of the stage and revolved—Oh, WOW!

What’s going on?

Well, something pretty special, although not show-related unless I drink all this liquor that showed up behind stage.  Good golly!  That’s great.  Someone sent back three bottles of Fernet Branca a very unusual drink that I particularly like…So I’m still walking toward the set list.  But anyway, so that’s the special thing, but now that we’re on the normal stage, of course we’re not revolving, but I’m pretty sure we’ll sit in the front.  But anyways, it just works as a special moment in the show, and I particularly like that one.  I like all of the pieces.  There are none that I haven’t had a lot of fun doing.

Now, I think it’s a gorgeous song, but do you ever get tired of playing “In Your Eyes”?

No.  I don’t.  Generally, on a really long—we used to tour for years, so when we’re on a really long tour you get tired of some of the material, that’s for sure.  But not the really good pieces, and this tour’s all good pieces, plus we’re not touring for a couple of years, so I don’t think I’ll get tired of anything. OK, I’m on stage where my set list should be and it isn’t there!  OK, we’re doing “Red Rain,” like we did.  We’re doing “Secret World.”  “Games Without Frontiers” we have added.  We’re doing that.  We didn’t do that in the regular tour. “Don’t Give Up” we’ve added.  “Tower,” actually the full name is “The Tower That Ate People.” We’re doing that.  We’re doing “Shock the Monkey.” “Come Talk to Me,” which on some shows we did and some we didn’t.  Those are the new ones that we’re doing tonight, but by tomorrow or the next show, things could have changed.  We could have added more newer pieces or newer or older pieces.  We did rehearse quite a few.

Did you even do “Shock the Monkey” on the Us tour?

Oh, on the Us tour, yes.  Last year we did it a couple of times but only a couple.

Hopefully you’ll do it when you come down to West Palm Beach.

Yeah!  I think, unless we do something wrong, it’ll still be there.  Unless we’ll do it badly.  I’m looking forward to going there.  It’ll be fun.  I haven’t been in Florida for quite a while with Peter.

How do you think Melanie is working out?

Um, great.  It’s a pleasure for us, not only having her sing and stuff, but I’ve known Melanie since she was a little girl, and, um, every band has a different energy depending on who’s in it and what they bring, and it’s great having a younger energy around and while we’re on the road.  There are a number of things that are great.  Also, she’s a great person, so it’s pretty neat having her.

Do you remember the day she was introduced to you as part of the band?  What did you think?

That’s a good question, but I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I’m sure you could get interesting answers to that from people, but I can’t remember when that was.  I think I heard it before the tour that she would be doing it.  Sorry, I don’t remember exactly.

Who’s the live drummer this time around?

Ged Lynch.  He’s done a lot of work with Peter in the last few years, and I did know his playing because two years ago we did a show in Seattle, a WOMAD festival, with kind of the same line-up, in a way, and Jed was the drummer, so I know he’s a very good drummer.

He’s on the record too.

I think so.  Playing both drums and percussion.

So what happened with Manu Katche?

Nothing happened to him. Just Peter chose to tour with Jed.  I don’t know why, really.

Remember when you did World Diary?  They were impromptu jam sessions in hotel rooms and stuff, right?  Have you thought about using more current portable recording technology and doing another one?

I have thought about it.  My first plan was to follow that up with two other albums in the same vein, going around the U.S.  I particularly avoided U.S. musicians [on World Diary].  I wanted to do it around the world, but not in the U.S., and I thought it would be nice to travel around the U.S. in my Harley with just my bass on my back or the Stick and visit musicians and just do records in their town.  So I was going to do that, but somewhere along the line I got busy with other ideas of what I might do for another album.  Lately, I’m enjoying writing in a more compositional way, in a less collaborative way, where I pretty much write the song out completely and then bring in musicians, so I’m sure I’ll go back at some point to a collaborative kind of thing.  Maybe go back to do that.  It was fun, but I wouldn’t mind doing that again.

The interview continues…

Read Part 3 (on King Crimson and more)

Read Part 1 (on recording with Peter Gabriel)

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)



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