The Aristocrats Live in Manchester

Prog reviews The Aristocrats live.

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Question: why did the cock cross the road? Answer: to get to The Aristocrats gig. Yep, it’s fair to say the Club Academy crowd is male dominated: the instrumental supergroup’s show is not so much a sausage fest as a dong bonanza.

Kicking off promptly at 8pm, a run of four tracks from 2015’s Tres Caballeros album opens the set, concluding with the melodic (un)tapping of Pressure Relief. Replete with vast, tightly-curled locks and beard, guitarist Guthrie Govan looks like Justin Hawkins after a spell on I’m A Celebrity…, or perhaps more appropriately, given his magical way with six strings, a wizard. One-time Steve Vai bassist Bryan Beller and Steven Wilson/Joe Satriani skinsman Marco Minnemann complete this almost over-competent trio and it’s the former who does most of the talking.

“As you know, we tour a lot,” he starts, introducing the title track of 2013’s Culture Clash. “And sometimes we find ourselves in weird places where we don’t know what’s going on…” “Like Manchester!” chimes the jubilant and inevitable heckle.

The threesome weave their way through a suitably vast expanse of cultural subsections: from full-on Bill & Ted shred, to classic prog and western inspired chicken picking; all while the audience whoop in response to any feats of wizardry.

Everybody have a good time! Guitarist Guthrie Govan shreds for Manchester

Everybody have a good time! Guitarist Guthrie Govan shreds for Manchester (Image credit: Mike Gray)

The frequent, frenetic rhythm changes are executed so tightly that they almost undermine their own prowess, but the downside of this is that, eventually, you start to question if this is a gig or a technique demonstration. Indeed Desert Tornado has a drum solo so indulgent that, part-way through, Prog fires up an iPhone stopwatch and watches it run to six and a half minutes. Half the crowd are enthralled, the rest are discussing their Christmas shopping.

It’s with some relief that Smuggler’s Corridor guides us back to Tres Caballeros and more exciting territory. The song has the semblance of a forgotten spaghetti western soundtrack, the type produced in the early 70s under the influence of copious illicit substances. A hair-raising Sergio Leone-style singalong rounds it out and proves the evening’s high point.

The band finish with first album favourite Get It Like That. A fan in an ‘All-Ireland Linguistics Olympiad’ hoody rocks out in front of us, as we begin to question whether or not we have the required IQ for this gig. The question is resolved when, mid-solo, Minneman pulls out a pig puppet and starts improvising oinks on the mic, while Beller responds by utilising a rubber chicken to surprisingly musical effect.

It’s tasteless and flippant to the point of idiocy, but then that’s the point – with The Aristocrats, the crowd are in on the joke.