Less is More: The Power of the Rock/Metal Three-Piece

I was hanging out with a couple of musician friends last night, and after talking about our RRSPs and Ottawa’s best hot yoga studios, the discussion eventually turned to music. One of them is in the process of putting a new band together with himself on guitar/vocals, a bassist, and a drummer. So we started talking about the virtues of the three-piece band in hard rock and heavy metal. Some of the biggest and best tunes in the history of heavy music came from the smallest bands. There’s something to be said about creating loud, intricate, and monumental music from the barest of bones: one guitar, one bass, a drum kit, and voices. So I got to thinking about my favourite three-pieces and decided to list some of them here:

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Hendrix is, of course, the greatest guitar player who ever lived, but he needed a larger-than-life rhythm section to complement his tremendous riffs and solos. Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding (and later Billy Cox) matched that revolutionary guitar work with powerfully epic beats and bass lines.

Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce added a harder edge to the psychedelic rock sound of the late 1960s and inspired generations of musicians to pick up guitars, basses and drumsticks. Cream made some of the funnest riffs to play.

One of the most influential pioneering heavy metal bands was also one of the most stripped-down. While the genre itself has evolved into diverse musical styles, Motörhead is the essence of that original loud, raw, fast, and unrelenting spirit.

The Police
They’re by no means a “heavy” band (they’re actually barely “rock”), but I was fortunate enough to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing them live about six years ago in Toronto, and was mostly blown away by the fact that it was just the three of them (along with the obligatory backup singers) on stage for the whole show.

Although I’m a little tired of hearing some of their hit songs overplayed on the radio to this day, it would be a disservice to leave Nirvana off of this list.

Les Claypool is the Hendrix of the bass, and Primus is one of the most unique three-pieces in rock history because they made a traditionally rhythmic instrument the cornerstone of the band’s sound. That also made them one of the heaviest bands of their era.

Dinosaur Jr.
The second-loudest concert I ever saw was a Dinosaur Jr. concert at the Garrick Theatre in Winnipeg.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The loudest concert I ever saw was a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion concert at the Kool Haus in Toronto.

KEN Mode
I rave enough about these guys, but I think they’re the most exciting heavy band in Canada and I’m really stoked to hear their new album coming out soon. This three-piece from Winnipeg creates some of the loudest and most interesting sounds out there.

I know I left off a few (hold your fire Rush fans), but that’s where you come in. What are some of your favourite three-piece rock/metal bands?


3 thoughts on “Less is More: The Power of the Rock/Metal Three-Piece

  1. And not quite rock, but Billy Martin’s one of my favourite living drummers. The organ trio’s a close cousin to the power trio.

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