When Tony Levin and Michael Bernier talk about getting on the stick, they mean it literally.
Fronting the Stick Men — which also includes Levin’s King Crimson bandmate Pat Mastelotto on drums — the two musicians play the Chapman Stick, a string instrument that’s played both melodically and percussively for an array of sounds that encompass the tonal range of a full band. The trio started performing live in November 2008, and Levin says extensive touring has allowed the Stick Men to season their music even as they worked on their first album, “Soup.”
“It’s a long time to be working on music before the CD comes out,” says Levin, 63, whose résumé also includes Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Pink Floyd, the late John Lennon and West Bloomfield Township singer-songwriter Susan Calloway. “That’s partly why I feel so good about the band. We didn’t just make a record and go on tour. We toured and let the music find its own nature and let our uniqueness of us as a band infect the music.
“It’s a different kind of situation for all of us, and very refreshing.”
“Soup” features a collection of originals as well as an adaptation of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” which Levin once performed as a part of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra with an aged Stravinsky conducting. There are more songs around as well — including one called “Tsunami Surfing” that’s become a concert favorite — and Levin says that with King Crimson on an extended hiatus, the Stick Men is “the top priority” for its three members.
“What helps us and keeps it exciting is we’re quite different as players,” Levin says. “We play with different techniques and different styles, which is convenient when you want to sound like a whole band.
“I won’t say it’s perfect every night — or even any any night. But sometimes when you take on a big challenge you get something from it, even if you don’t totally master the challenge. This is pretty ambitious, but I think we’re doing something really unique and really enjoying it.”
The Stick Men perform Thursday, May 13, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22. Call 248-544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.
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