Three’s Company: the Absolute Best Power Trios of All Time

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From singer/songwriters to large bands like Polyphonic Spree, musical acts vary in size and number. Unlike the rather tawdry cliché, bigger is not always better. Mastering a full and powerful sound out of three musicians is tricky, but when done right a simple trio ““ bass, drums, and guitar ““ can make earth shattering rock n’ roll. Over the course of the last fifty years these five bands have proved themselves to be the pinnacle of what it means to be a power trio.

5 Muse (Matthew Bellamy, Christopher Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard)

Putting Muse on the list is kind of cheating, but who cares. The three aforementioned members are Jacks-of-all-trades, and indeed master of them, too. Each musician plays four or five instruments. That said, their unique sound is still created by three people. Formed in England in 1994 (just as Nirvana came to its demise) and sporting a much cleaner sound than the grunge bands of the mid 90s, Muse’s power feels electrically-shockingly cool. While their first album didn’t appear until 1999, they had several years of practice combining sounds similar to Radiohead and Nirvana to create a unique hybrid of power and melody. As the years have passed, their sound has become increasingly slick, but they still retain the shock of pure volume that they always did.

4 The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell)

Usually, one thinks of The Jimi Hendrix Experience as a solo act ““ Hendrix and his backing band. Yet Hendrix’s career is proof that without Redding and Mitchell, Jimi’s sound lacked that indiscernible something. Both musicians were exceptional at their craft, and with Hendrix’s otherworldly guitar playing they created one of the most beautiful, and powerful, bands in the great canon of rock n’ roll. Take one listen to Fire and you can’t sit still. The first few licks of Purple Haze send you into spasms of ecstasy. There is a seamless integration of each musician’s expertise that makes The Jimi Hendrix Experience The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and as such, takes the cake for power-trio-prowess.

3 The Jam (Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler)

The power-trio on this list that you may not have heard of, or even taken into account, are the undeniably brilliant 70s new wave British band The Jam. A bizarre combination of melodic talent mixed with punk attitude and mod sensibilities, The Jam hewed a sound that is inimitable as they spearheaded the mod revival in England during the 70s and 80s. Most notable for launching Paul Weller’s career in the form of The Style Council, The Jam’s power is often overlooked. However power doesn’t come only in the form of volume, and The Jam are a perfect example of that fact. Their music is well crafted and purposeful. Every sound is there for a reason, making each song a unique experience. Songs like The Bitterest Pill in contrast to English Rose demonstrate that The Jam were that perfect coming-together of musical styles to create something ephemerally and musically astounding.

2 Cream (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker)

Perhaps the pioneers of the power trio structure, Cream’s musical prowess was pioneering. What’s unique about their sound is the inherent ability to mix powerful (re: loud) music with amazing melody. Melodies, which have a habit of getting lost, subsumed by the sheer volume of sound, are instead the most distinct and interesting part of Cream’s music. Notoriously, during a live show, Ginger Baker famously stopped playing and neither Clapton nor Bruce noticed. Drums, the backbone of any musical group, had become overwhelmed by the roaring amps; it was this loss, the substitute of rhythm and cohesiveness for sheer volume that contributed to the demise of one of the best power-trios to come out of the 1960s.

1 Nirvana (Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl)

Smells Like Teen Spirit is now universally recognized as the undeniable anthem of a generation that turned the musical world on its head. The first fifteen seconds are a wall of sound consisting of distorted guitar chords, hammer-smashing-powerful drums, and perfectly crafted bass licks. The power of those fifteen seconds is perhaps the best representation of the sheer enormity that a power trio can create; the three responsible for this moment are Nirvana. However, Smells Like Teen Spirit isn’t the only song where the total of Nirvana’s sound is apparent. In songs like Rape Me, You Know You’re Right, In Bloom, and Negative Creep (to name a few) the same musical muscle pours from the speakers. When you look at the band it’s hard to imagine three slender, emaciated young men could create such commanding rock music. To watch them perform is an astounding experience, but it enlightens the listener to the pure emotion, drive, and honesty it takes to create a sound as full bodied and overwhelming (and so far unmatched) as Nirvana.

Closing Words
These five bands are great examples of what makes the power-trio such a unique formation. By paring down on the number of musicians, each musician there has to be as powerful as at least two people combined. Their prowess and energy has to be at 100% every second of every song. Whatever the distinct style of each band, every musician involved is an integral player to the quality of sound. Performing solely as three individuals is a hard task to accomplish, and these five bands do it astoundingly.

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