"I am a workaholic," says guitarist Adrian Belew, sounding more exhilarated than exhausted. "I don't think I've taken a vacation in five years. I just love working."
With multiple projects on the front and back burners, the multifaceted instrumentalist, singer and songwriter is one happy camper.
Tonight, the Cincinnati-bred musician checks into the Coach House for a solo acoustic performance. But his creative adrenaline really kicks into overdrive once he wraps up his current tour and returns to his Nashville home recording studio.
Beginning in early August, he'll continue work on his next solo project, which he describes as "experimental." At the same time, he'll be wrapping up the first album in 11 years he's done with his free-spirited group, the Bears.
These projects must be completed by November. That's when Belew reunites with his cohorts in the veteran progressive-rock band King Crimson to start work on a new album, their first studio effort since "THRAK" in 1995.
Any spare moments probably will find Belew rummaging through his studio vaults in search of noteworthy, unreleased material for still another project: a retrospective box set that will bring together lost nuggets from his two-decade solo recording career. Tentatively titled "Dust," the set is scheduled for release in 2001.
Belew is so excited about his works in progress that he's reluctant to dwell on even his immediate past, such as his most recent album, "Salad Days," which presents acoustic versions of previously released material.
He appears just as enthused about a compilation sampler he's put together for his fans featuring music from his upcoming projects. His Coach House performance will include material from both, as well as from the rest of his catalog.
"Because of the 'Salad Days' CD, a lot of people come to the show expecting an [entirely] acoustic show," Belew said from a Santa Cruz tour stop. "The show is half of what you hear on 'Salad Days'--the acoustic rendering of songs--but the other half is electric stuff.
"There are times where I play along with bass and drum parts that I prerecorded in my studio. So I sound like a band when I play the electric guitar. People get a little bit of everything."
Fans also get to play a role in determining some of the what Belew plays on stage. On his current two-month tour, he's been fielding song requests from his audiences. He also sets aside time during each performance to take questions. Then at show's end, he hangs around to autograph CDs and posters.
This fan-friendly attitude seems to come naturally to Belew. In conversation, he exudes warmth and self-effacing charm.
During the question-answer part of his shows, he said, "People always want to know what's up next with King Crimson.That's one of the first questions. Not only do I answer it, but I go into depth as to what I think is going to happen [once we get together].
"The questions and answers are so much fun for me because they come from all kinds of different areas. Some people ask me what I ate for breakfast and some people want some in-depth explanation of the gear I use. I try to make my answers informative or funny, to give something of my personality. It helps to make every performance a little different."
The 49-year-old musician has spent most of his career working as a solo artist. Yet he is far better known for his relatively brief membership in King Crimson and for his work as a vaunted session guitarist.
His big career break occurred in the late '70s when Frank Zappa invited Belew to tour and record with him. This led to session work with such rock trailblazers as David Bowie and Talking Heads. (His innovative guitar work on the latter band's "Remain in Light" helped make that 1980 album one of the most important works of the decade.) He also would eventually work with more mainstream artists including Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper.
In 1981, Belew became a full-fledged member of a newly constructed version of King Crimson, which was born in 1969. Belew's edition of the group released three quality albums before disbanding in 1984.
The breakup was due in part to what Belew describes as "too much touring in too short a time." But 10 years later, King Crimson was back in business. Belew hasn't stopped working since. Each of his projects seems to fulfill a different personal and/or artistic need.
"I don't think of King Crimson as being 'fun,' " he said. "The Bears are a lot more fun, since we just play songs and jump around. Crimson is more dark and intellectual.
"Though the people in the band are all great people, the idea is to challenge yourself [artistically]. Making my solo records is my favorite thing because that's my own palette, where I get to be the painter and show you how I see things. But it's healthy for me to also be in a position where I'm affected by what other people do."
Belew continues to do his share of session work. His guitar work will be prominently featured on the next Nine Inch Nails album. (He also played on the band's previous one, 1994's "The Downward Spiral.")
"There are many sides to what I do," he said. "Of course I love the aspect of being the wild electric guitar player that people like. But there is also the singer-songwriter side to what I do, which is actually the reason I started playing the guitar in the first place.
"I don't want to give up any of these different things. I want to incorporate them all together. But it is nice that people come away from these current shows oftentimes talking as much about my voice as my guitar playing."
* Adrian Belew, the Irresponsibles and Lunatic Zoo perform tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $15-$17. (949) 496-8927.