Music review: Trio boldly takes guitars where few have gone before

After 20 years of playing together, the musicians in the California Guitar Trio are still finding wa

After 20 years of playing together, the musicians in the California Guitar Trio are still finding ways to stretch the guitar beyond its preconceived limits, as they amply proved during the first of two shows at The Van Dyck on Friday night.

Paul Richards of Utah, Bert Lams, originally from Belgium, and Hideyo Moriya of Japan pulled out all the stops for an hour-and-a-half set before a sold-out crowd that almost felt too brief. Even with the time constraint, the trio left no musical stone unturned, tackling surf, progressive rock (the three are former students of Robert Fripp, after all), spaghetti western soundtracks, jazz and more in a set that spanned their entire career.

As this was a show on their 20th anniversary tour, it made sense to start at the beginning, with “Yamanashi Blues,” the title track off their 1994 debut album. The band stuck with originals initially, tackling the intricate “Train to Lamy” next. This was the first song that showcased the full depth of the trio’s acoustic-guitars-with-effects setup, as Richards provided heavily distorted slide runs over Lams and Moriya’s interweaved fingerpicking.

The band switched gears for “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous organ piece translating quite well to the three guitar format. According to Richards, the band’s spokesman, this is the song that won over King Crimson’s audience when the trio toured with them early in their career, and it was easy to hear why from this spot-on performance.

The title track from the band’s most recent album, 2010’s “Andromeda,” brought all of the band’s varied playing styles together for a massively intricate and atmospheric build-up. As Richards chugged away on chunky, distorted chords, Lams and Moriya locked in with jagged yet melodic harmonies — Lams in particular reached high up on the fretboard for the notes, ending the song with a huge flourish that got some of the evening’s loudest applause.

The band used its talents for comedic effect, as well as to impress — “Ghost Riders on the Storm,” a combination of the traditional country tune “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” managed both. And, skipping ahead to the encore, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” got everyone in the crowd smiling and half-mumbling the lyrics along to the guitar’s melody.

This was the only show of the tour to feature King Crimson bassist Tony Levin, and he didn’t disappoint. “Melrose Avenue” found the four musicians hammering home on a Middle Eastern motif, while “Blockhead” showed off all the musicians’ prog roots. A spacey version of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” lost none of the intensity of the original, even without the vocals, and was perhaps the highlight of the evening.

Levin switched from electric bass to bowed stand-up for a song on the group’s soon-to-be-released classical album. Dick Dale’s surf classic “Miserlou” got the audience clapping along, as all three guitarists traded licks as Levin pounded out the song’s skeleton.

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