A common phrase is that there’s no account for taste, and rightfully so. I used to be fond of the more ‘traditional’ heavy metal and hard rock styles, loaded with postproduction processing and a lot of thick production. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a good deal of Queen, the Darkness or Iron Maiden every once in a while, right?! But as I’m getting older, I’m finding myself more and more fond of cleaner styles. Not necessarily styles with less gain, but less production, a more raw, fundamental sound and one aspect to achieve such a sound is to skip all the gimmicks and frills and go back to the bare essentials: bass, drum, guitar and vocals. In my opinion, a power trio is one of the most awesome band configurations you could imagine. A ‘power duo’ often lacks the melodic power or the low end ‘thump’ of a multi-person band, and when you’re using more than two lead instruments, the sound often becomes too congested, too thick and too rich for my taste. Not to mention that the instrumentalists of a power trio often need to be very skilled in their respective field in order for their music not to sound boring or dull.
Because of my fondness for music, bands and power trios I want to talk a bit about my favorite power trios!
When the European music scene is being discussed, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia (and to a lesser degree Germany and Central Europe) are always on the top of the heap when it comes to guitar-related music. The Netherlands and Belgium seem to be forgotten or ignored when it comes to great music and I think that’s an unfair statement. The Antwerp-based power trio Triggerfinger is perhaps one of the finest bands to emerge from Belgium in recent years. Balls to the walls combined with a great show, strong lyrics and a great sound, Triggerfinger promises to deliver a rock’n'roll fueled night you’ll never forget!
Taking the musical direction of Van Halen, Judas Priest and UFO, Vanderbuyst is an upcoming band from the Netherlands. With the vocals being handled by the bass player, Vanderbuyst manages to strip all the unnecessary elements of old school heavy metal without sounding thin, boring or dull.
This indie-underground-grunge-rock band should be on anyone’s ‘favorite band’ list. At least, in my opinion, even though it took me some years to develop the taste for Dinosaur Jr. Great riffs combined with very personal lyrics and virtuose solo’s as the proverbial cherry on the pie, Dinosaur Jr. is for the me often needed palate cleansing.
4. Blue Murder/John Sykes Trio
If you were in any state of consciousness during the 80ies and were very much into the hardrock/glamrock scene, or perhaps you’re of a more recent vintage and just discovered this era of great music, you might remember that tall guy in Thin Lizzy and later on Whitesnake, whielding that black Les Paul Custom with chrome pickguard and pickup rings. John Sykes is one of my personal heroes. He nearly single handedly formed the sound of hard rock during the early 1980s with his work in Tiger of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy and later on Whitesnake. After his tenure and the extremely successful album ’1987′ , Sykes went on to form the power trio Blue Murder. Even though Blue Murder used an extra pair of hands on the keyboard, they essentially became a powertrio after Blue Murder disbanded and are perhaps one of the most powerful bands I have ever come across. Tight, searing, punchy leads with bone crushing rhythms, paired with Sykes’ strong vocals, Blue Murder was a near unbeatable combination for any hardrock aficionado. Just take a look at Sykes working the volume and tone controls all the time, just to tweak his tone to the max.
This millennium has seen its fair share of supergroups: already established musicians from already established bands creating one new one. Some were more successful than others and often these supergroups would fall apart due to intern struggles. Big egos (though often deserved!) often collide. Sometimes the vision of the most dominant player doesn’t mix with the rest of the band. In retrospect, the mismatch can often be heard in the music, but not so with the Winery Dogs. Richie Kotzen has earned his stripes with Mr Big and a huge, impressive solo career. Mike Portnoy rose of course to fame with Dreamtheater and Billy Sheehan is perhaps one of the most acclaimed bass players of our current day. The combination of these players is actually just a logical, natural thing! Just listen to their music: it’s a natural, logical mix of rock, funk, blues and some metal-flavorings too!
Can any list of best bands be complete without Rush? These three guys have been rocking ‘n jamming together since the 1970s and show no signs of slowing down. The high-pitched vocals and counterpoint-like bass lines of Geddy Lee, Neil Peart’s contemplative lyrics and almost melodic drums, paired with Alex Liveson’s howling guitars would be enough to ensure them of eternal fame and glory. But that’s not all that makes Rush so amazing. Sometimes I get the feeling they ‘invented’ multitasking on stage! Combining several instruments simultaneously, Rush manages to create a huge sound without ever sounding congested or overly thick. That, plus great song writing capabilities is what makes me believe that the entire discography of Rush could be considered a masterclass in song writing!
What can be said about Motorhead that hasn’t been said so far? Screaming guitars? Check. Throaty, raspy vocals? Check. Thunderous bass that sucks the blood out of your ears? Check. Blasting, tight drums? Check. An attitude that’ll make even the devil crawl back to his bed? Double check. Where John Sykes was instrumental in developing the hard rock guitar tone of the 1980s, Motorhead stood at the cradle of hard rock and heavy metal itself.
I know this song has been played till death and it’s almost a cliche, but can you possibly ignore the power of this song?! Don’t think so…
One of the more recent additions to the arena of hard rocking power trios, The Drills appear to gather a growing following in recent years. Phil X is one of the hardest working guitarists I know, appearing on so many albums with so many artists as well as playing guitar in Bon Jovi nowadays. But as smooth and slick as Bon Jovi’s music is, so raw and pure is the music of the Drills. The tightness and coyness of their playing comes from being true masters of their instrument as well as having pure, unadulterated fun in making music!
Three musicians, each respected and revered in their respective fields but with 2 things at least in common. 1: The ability to cross genres as easy as they slip on a pair of slippers. 2: The love of pushing the musical boundary. Of course, having a lot of fun playing together helps a lot! I never imagined how diverse, fluid, and in a declamatory manor purely instrumental music could be. The Aristocrats deliver on all levels. Writing, public image, technical prowess… I can’t imagine a reason not to love the Aristocrats!
I was hesitant to include the Alex Skolnick Trio in this list. Perhaps because the name isn’t as catchy as Triggerfinger or Rush or maybe because the music isn’t that accessible at first. But frankly, the Alex Skolnick Trio is one of my favorite bands. Alex Skolnick’s way of creating jazz versions of popular rock and metal songs is astounding. Not only do they pull it off on record but live as well. I feel extremely fortunate to have seen them live once. If you love good jazz or good music in general, go see them if you have the chance!
I know that I must have left out your favorite powertrio, but these ten are my personal favorites and some of them aren’t really that mainstream. I like bands that make great music and manage to stay low on the musical radar. Do you know a great power trio that’s not listed in my top 10 and is somewhat underground? Please share in the comments!