The Levin Brothers
Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton MA – March 26, 2019
Story, photos, and video by Kelly D
Perhaps because of the close proximity of Western Mass (my cherished neck of the woods) to the Hudson Valley (another haven for musicians and artists), I’ve gotten to see Tony Levin now five times in four different musical outfits. If you’re not familiar with Tony Levin by name I guarantee you’ve heard at least one of the songs he’s played on, as he’s performed with almost everyone from Cher to Alice Cooper. This particular troupe, his project with his brother, cleverly titled the Levin Brothers, was just a bit different than his work with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. However, both artists got the Levin treatment at their show at the Iron Horse on a cool Tuesday night in downtown Northampton, MA.
Drawing from an eclectic collection of source material, the four-piece played almost two hours of jazzy numbers. Ever thought the wild guitar stylings of Jimi Hendrix would translate to smooth jazz? Turns out they do, quite nicely. Joked Pete Levin, “Jimi could swing! . . . If you ignored the Marshall stacks.”
The quartet also knows their target audience- as a massive fan of Steely Dan, after their first couple songs, I thought to myself “I’m getting serious Dan vibes here- I wonder if we’re gonna hear a Dan song,” and was pleased to hear an obscure number from Two Against Nature, “Jack of Speed,” performed next.
The four men of the Levin Brothers are, obviously, renowned bassist and Chapman Stick-ist Tony Levin and his older sibling, keyboardist/pianist Pete, plus guitarist David Spinozza, and drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel. Having played together for several years, and having released a self-titled debut in 2014, the chemistry between the band members is obvious. The guys were all smiles as they wandered through progressive jazz chords and solos, even though Tony was suffering from a cold (he laughingly suggested to a woman in the front row that she be his “Kleenex Brigade,” as he was constantly snatching tissues from a box by his feet).
The group, after their Steely Dan detour, then played a crowd-pleasing rendition of Paul Simon’s “Scarborough Fair,” turning the mythical dreamlike original into an upbeat messenger for Spinozza’s delicate guitar work.
An original, “Ballad for the Innocent,” struck me in particular. It was written by Siege written in response to the terror attack in Belgium, which happened three years ago in March 2016. As the quartet moved through it reverently, I couldn’t help but pay particular attention to Tony on his upright bass, performing open flowing chords that reminded me of his work on Peter Gabriel’s self-titled 1980 album, commonly called Melt.
Two songs from the first Levin Brothers album got some love- “Havana” and “Gimme Some Scratch.” Said a mirthful Pete Levin of the latter, “That was our ‘other’ hit.” Siege had an opportunity to show off the array of auxiliary percussion surrounding his kit during “Havana.”
The climax of the show came with the trio of King Crimson songs the Brothers played towards the end of the evening: “Bolero,” also made popular by fellow proggers Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; the unexpected, welcome choice of “Matte Kudasai” off of Crimson’s 1981 album Discipline; and the pulsing “Sleepless” from their 1984 opus Three of a Perfect Pair. I noticed Siege softly drumming on his toms with his hands, which was a nice touch.
The penultimate tune the quarter performed happened to be one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs: his duet with Kate Bush off his massively popular album So, “Don’t Give Up.” Bush’s honey-sweet vocals came through in the form of Pete Levin’s piano, which I found to be a perfect match.
The encore, “Icarus,” came from Tony Levin’s 2000 solo album Waters of Eden. Each member got his chance to shine, turning the mid-tempo original into a, dare I say, almost dance-y number. The crowd happily gave a standing ovation to the band, who gave thanks to the crew at the Iron Horse and mentioned repeatedly how much they enjoy performing in Northampton. Come back again soon, guys! Don’t “Levin” us hanging.