Early Life Forms ft Marc Ribot review – freewheeling guitar heroes wing it in style

Belgian guitarist Vitja Pauwels and his new band get it on with the Tom Waits collaborator – live and unrehearsed

“Big in Belgium” may not seem the greatest compliment for a musician, but guitarist Vitja Pauwels has made waves beyond his homeland with an adventurous mix of electric and acoustic fretboards and electronic effects, nicely captured on 2022’s Drift By/Sink In. Here, Pauwels and his new quartet get to play with his personal guitar god, Marc Ribot, who is big absolutely everywhere, having played with everyone from Tom Waits to Robert Plant. Approached by Pauwels, the American agreed to a one-off show at a festival in Mechelen, with Pauwels stipulating that there would be no rehearsals beyond a soundcheck.

The result, recorded live, is a freewheeling interplay between the two, supported by drums, bass and Hammond organ. Pauwels wrote the numbers with Ribot in mind, so one emphasis is on the funky end of things, with a nod to Ribot’s Latin leanings (as the Prosthetic Cubans) on opener Latin Dancer. The pattern for much of what follows has Pauwels casting long lines of notes that are punctuated by Ribot’s characteristic distorted chopping. Elsewhere, on cuts such as Release and Return, the Brussels-based bandleader goes into moody ambience that has Ribot twitching on one side rather than blazing away. For that, Ribot’s recent Ceramic Dog album, Hope, is the place. A worthwhile curio, then, but next time try a rehearsal.

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