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An Evening with King Crimson – Usher Hall, Edinburgh 18th September 2015
:: Posted by markjbennett on September 21, 2015
A Fan’s Eye View of the Gig
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part I)
Pictures Of A City
A Scarcity Of Miracles
Hell Hounds Of Krim (drum piece)
Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)
The ConstruKction Of Light
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle (drum piece)
The Talking Drum
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part II)
Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row (drum piece)
Court Of The Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man
This was a gig I honestly never thought I’d witness and therefore there may be a certain stunned bewilderment in my reaction to the music and performance. The audience’s anticipation was palpable as we listened to some ‘frippertronics’ – apparently composed/improvised an hour before – as ambient sounds before the start time, which should have been 7.30pm prompt but the Scots aren’t known for their punctuality, so it was nearer 7.45pm.
There was a tremendous roar as the seven-piece band took their places and gradually the tension cranked up to 11 throughout the intro to LTIA part one with an array of percussive objects employed by the front line batterie of (left to right) Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson, Mr Mister), Bill Rieflin (Nine Inch Nails, REM) and Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree). As this tension reached its climax, we hear just how seamlessly these guys can work as a team, almost like a three-headed machine. A sense of precision, grace and power emanated from the drummers at all times and the visual ‘spectacle’ of seeing drum rolls pan across the whole width of the stage from right to left created a sensation akin to watching a game of tennis. I’ve so far neglected the hard-hitting gunners coming up from the rear (again left to right) Mel Collins (King Crimson, Camel, Alan Parsons Project) on woodwind instruments, Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) on basses, stick bass and backing vocals, Jakko Jakszyk (Level 42) guitar and lead vocals and of course Robert Fripp – the beating heart of every incarnation of King Crimson, this one being mark VIII. …Anyway back to LTIA part one which had to be the ideal opener for any KC concert as it has all the signature elements that make this music so special but the element I hadn’t expected, never having seen them live before, was witnessing the intensity of the performance that corresponds so perfectly with this intense music. This had the visceral impact of making you listen to the music anew, almost as if you had never known it all.
Pictures Of A City was a song that 21st Century Schizoid Band (the KC touring band minus Robert Fripp but including Jakko) had taken on the road in 2004 and obviously pleased fans of the earliest incarnation. I’m very happy to report that it is still pleasing them today with this being a great show case for Mel’s skills and demonstrating beautifully the precision timing of this unique rhythm section. We also get to hear Jakko sing for the first time and his Greg Lake synthesis is most successful.
Next up was A Scarcity Of Miracles, which had been part of a side venture for Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins in 2011 but here fitting the full band beautifully with its relaxed mood and giving the audience a gentle come down after the first two numbers. Also it was a sublime vehicle for Collins’ skill on sax. Then followed by the first of several new pieces to highlight the three drummers giving the other band members a break, albeit still on stage.
Again two other new songs Radical Action and Meltdown, I suspect entirely new to the audience too but with a good groove, pleasing melodies and great vocals, they went down very well indeed.
The ConstruKction Of Light supplied a huge dose of Math Rock from 2000. Intense and dark but the audience was well in the zone to go with this. The only Adrian Belew era number included with Jakko filling his guitar shoes with ease.
The era-defining sound of the mellotron (supplied by Bill Rieflin from behind his kit) in Epitaph gave me my first genuinely emotional moment of the gig with the lines ‘I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying’ embarrassingly filling my eyes with excess moisture. The show was starting to peak for me from here and the band was certainly on a roll.
Another new drum piece leading into the military drum crunch that begins Easy Money. This song was never a huge favourite of mine on album but was totally sold to me in a live context, with Jakko and Tony’s vocals hitting the spot. The audience, still remaining seated but by now ecstatic in its applause.
Now, came one of my highlights of the evening with Islands era The Letters. Not only could Jakko vocally ‘do’ Greg Lake but he totally nailed Boz Burrell too. This song with its sinister lyrics (every word could be heard with a pure delivery) and its sparkling arrangement had such a powerful dramatic force. Jakko took a deep breath and (almost a cappella) screamed ‘Impaled on nails of ice’ that must have frozen the marrow of everyone present. This concert was now on another level…
The Talking Drum always was an exotic beast of a piece and here it featured Tony Levin beating his bass with stick extensions to his fingers and a thunderous onslaught of percussive might along with great interplay between the guitarists. One observation I made about the drummers was that this wasn’t just a gimmick, neither was it a bland wall of sound but instead each player shared the duties, either individually or a third of the parts which visually made the playing look like slow motion drumming. As if a strobe had caught each one in mid-blow, but in fact the lighting was a minimal, permanent white as would be used by a chamber orchestra and in a way that was what we were experiencing, except a chamber group couldn’t scare the bejesus out of you and this show had thus far given me a racing heart-rate, near panic attacks with the volatile atmospheres conjured and also the mercurial mood-swings it induced. This was music to play with your blood pressure.
There was now no stopping this ‘seven-headed beast of Crim’ as Fripp had recently and very accurately called them. Onwards and certainly upwards with LTIA part two which had many elderly heads bobbing, although not quite head-banging, in the rows in front of me as the minimalistic arpeggios escalated to a frenzied crescendo. How do you follow this? …With Starless of course! The subtle textures of cymbals punctuated the haunting mellotron and guitar intro. Hearing Robert Fripp play this most beautiful of melodies as only he could was like arriving in heaven to me (a lump in the throat). I haven’t mentioned Fripp’s performance much as he quietly appears to orchestrate the band from his vantage point almost in the wings, occasionally raising the emotional level of the music with that Humbucker of a tone he has and adding real kick ass volume when it is required. There was some genuinely inspiring dueting of guitars and unique pairing with sax and guitar that made my hair stand on end. Jakko again carried off such a coupe in matching John Wetton’s power but with a unique clarity that is all his own. As the third verse ended and we moved into the extended instrumental section, the lighting gradually transformed into red (nod to the album title) and the mood became even more focused and intense as Tony Levin’s bass-playing seemed to make time stand still. Phenomenal interplay by everyone as this hurtled to its climax with stunning sax and bass. Everyone in the room sprung to their feet and screamed the house down. I’m not sure I’d heard such a loud roar at a concert before. I was goose-bumpy and emotional.
After a lengthy standing ovation, the band left the stage looking humbled by the crowd’s reaction. Re-energized and ready for round two they kicked off with the final drum piece. None of these pieces were remotely similar, following Fripp’s brief of reinventing rock drumming. Some featuring samples of Jamie Muir’s arsenal of sounds and also employing the gamelan rhythms Fripp has favoured for decades alongside delicate glockenspiel-type textures. Some of the drumming felt like Burundi sounds, some like a military band, but always delivered in an original fashion and wholly entertaining. I only saw one drumstick smashed by Harrison but he didn’t miss a beat.
And back to the true dessert of this feast… It was mellotron central (and 1969) again in one wave of sound that heralded ITCOTCK. I had shivers beyond my control with the beautiful ensemble playing although Mel Collins stole the show with his flute. After that grandiose classic, the audience could sense we were reaching an inevitable conclusion and let 21st Century Schizoid Man kick-start them again. Surprising everyone, including the band, several twenty-something males started dancing in front of the stage to the complex rhythms and strange signatures involved (hard to believe I know). I think that substances may be necessary to acquire such skills. Tony Levin, in his blog, described it as ‘not pretty’ although the shapes they were throwing were wild and exotic, somehow strangely appropriate and very 1969. Unfazed by the unexpected choreography the band soldiered on with military precision and even gave us a conventional drum solo from Gavin Harrison in an evening of unconventional drumming. It was obvious from the delight on the band’s faces that they were enjoying this performance as much as the audience was. From the energy exuded you would never have known that everyone on stage (and most of the crowd too!) was over 50 and after this passionate set lasting two hours, no-one looked physically drained, just elated. After another lengthy standing ovation, complete with the deafening bellowing that Scots can achieve (the famous Hampden Roar), everyone was thrilled and satisfied by what they had witnessed. It will be a memory to last a lifetime.
:: Posted by Bakullama on September 21, 2015
Ha ha ha ha ha ! (dats a gud vun)! Sounds like suitable grounds to me!
Suitable Grounds in Birmingham
:: Posted by pgeall on September 21, 2015
Following Pete W’s comments on the Birmingham show he saw and the presence or otherwise of vocals in Suitable Grounds for the Blues, allow me to add the following by way of clarification.
Jakko’s lyrics for the song are a form of lament for the supporters of Birmingham City football club (the Blues) following rumours that they may be forced to relocate and play fixtures at a new stadium in future. The lyric focuses on possible new venues for the team. For this reason it was felt that Adrian Belew (not Blue) would have been out of place on the song due his more limited experience of football (and soccer also). There is no truth either in the suggestion that the lyric refers to AB’s coffee leftovers.
The song was omitted from one of the Hackney shows due to constraints of space and from the second Birmingham show to avoid offending local sensibilities. Welsh listeners asked for the song Indoor Games to be included in the Cardiff shows as the Millenium Stadium has,of course, a retractable roof. The song was not performed as it was felt to be an excessive expression of local pride and too far to travel on a Tuesday after work.
Lizard Rise 2
:: Posted by GonzalezPaulo on September 21, 2015
:: Posted by thinwhiteduke on September 19, 2015 ........but I know I’m not alone in hoping someday KC will play a track or two from the fantastic album that is Lizard?....
No, you´re not alone. And since the new KC line-up decided to include 70s material (which was a damn good idea) I wished they had included also songs that past line-ups never played (like they did now with One More Red Nightmare).... or songs played just a few times .
Instead o Starless & Schizoid Man... I keep wondering about live versions of ISLANDS, LADIES OF THE ROAD, LIZARD (the whole side 2 suite), INDOOR GAMES, HAPPY FAMILY, BREATHLESS, NORTH STAR, FALLEN ANGEL, IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON, MOONCHILD, CALL TOMORROW, ERUDITE EYES, etc..
Stealing your words ThinWhite Duke, I can dream, cant’ I? lol
Will the Lizard ever rise again?
:: Posted by thinwhiteduke on September 19, 2015
I know Robert is not fond of it, but I know I’m not alone in hoping someday KC will play a track or two from the fantastic album that is Lizard? Cirkus could be really cool, or Lizard itself...
I can dream can’t I?
2000 Bootleg TV
:: Posted by miles58 on September 19, 2015
When I purchased Heavy ConstrucKction, it mentioned in the linear notes "Documentary videos and individually serialized double CD sets will be available for most shows of The ConstrucKction of Light 200 tour." Well here we are in 2015, still waiting, however we are being drip fed small tasters of the available shows, which is great however I would rather be purchasing the shows as described in the notes.
In my opinion the best ever Crimson Improvisation was created on this tour, Improv: Munchen, there’s something about it that’s in your face and driven, a master piece of creation never to be repeated, I have not heard anything like it anywhere else.
Lets hope we don’t have to wait as long as we have for Frank Zappa’s Roxy and Elsewhere concerts, because its been over 40 years and I will be either dead, or over 85 and deaf. Moan over, its wonderful that KC are back and on top of their game as they have ever been, well done.
small favor to ask
:: Posted by Undisciplined on September 18, 2015
Could some of our UK-based contributors include some information on what’s appeared at the merch table ? Reason being there’s curiosity as to what might be included for the November jaunt to Canada.
Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)
:: Posted by Bakullama on September 18, 2015
I think he may have used this title as a way to express his displeasure with the guestbook negativity... Took radical action and walked away... Perhaps never to return? We are monkeys? :)
:: Posted by PeterW on September 18, 2015
KIng Crimson at Birmingham Symphony Hall
Well, it was better for me than at the Hackney Empire, hardly an accolade as that was one of the most disappointing concerts that I have ever attended . I tried to not let that prejudice the forthcoming experience. I am a fan, not a professional critic and pay for my entrance. I have no investment in being disappointed but I do have expectations of King Crimson that I wouldn’t from other rock bands. I deliberately anticipated this as I would an orchestral concert, polite and genteel from musicians and audience, no theatrics but bringing us into the presence of beautiful, extreme music.
My improved experience was, however, largely because of the venue and, I suspect, my position in it. The symphony hall is a modern, acoustically designed auditorium with comfortable seating. Hackney is a cramped Victorian box. This time I was seated three rows from the stage, I wanted close-up details. At Hackney I’d gone for an overview from the Circle. I had a fine view of Mr Mastelotto’ s musical mania but a consequence of putting three drummers front of stage is that audience seated close up can only see the back line through gaps in the batteries. Never mind, as you don’t (or shouldn’t) go to a KC gig expecting a visual experience. It’s about the music.
The quality of the sound: Two and a half drummers (no disrespect implied to Bill Rieflin, some of the time he is playing a laptop Mellotron) looks good but on both occasions has buried the "reconfigured back-line", although at Birmingham the balance was better. From my seat at Hackney the bass or Stick was almost absent. This time it was audible, occasionally tangible, but still generally muted (my hearing is entirely adequate). For example, after the dynamic kick up in The Talking Drum, it was just loud enough. Elsewhere, the release from the tension section of Starless was a damp squib. Fripp’s playing was equally subdued, both in its dynamic within the overall sound and in having sections in which to feature. No Sailor’s Tale left only a short foray in Easy Money which was brief and tokenistic, particularly when compared to the way that the 1973 line-up used here as a platform to improvised adventure. Mel Collins once again stood out for the quality of his playing plus his prominence against the drums. If this sonic situation, similar at two very different venues, is accidental, it is unfathomable and unforgivable, it is so easy to rectify. If it is deliberate (and the mix of Live At The Orpheum, with the pitched instruments subsumed under the clattering percussion, suggests that it is), it’s perverse.
The playing: I’m not going to list the set and its details. That can be found elsewhere. I want to attempt to explain, to myself as much as to anybody else, why I again left underwhelmed. This is King Crimson. The bar has been set very high. The exceptional quality of the playing can be taken as read. And they are unique, about the only band that play with the complexity and originality usually associated with classical music, the improvisation from jazz and the attack and timbres of rock. Over the years, Robert Fripp has informed my expectations of how King Crimson differs from other rock bands in its concert format. I have come to expect and accept certain idiosyncrasies; at various times, no encores, no old material, no theatrics, the guitarist hidden unlit behind boxes of tech, no photos, etc. As listener, in exchange I was offered the opportunity to come away from a gig delighted to have vicariously taken part in a real time musical adventure, to wonder at a combination of musical technique, subtlety and brutality, to have heard the future. Those are not the sensations that I get from experiencing this version of the band. What I believed to be defining features are no longer present. This is not a moan, I don’t feel ripped-off, I have no right to demand anything of them. It is an attempt to understand what feels like an essential change in the ethos of the band. This King Crimson has confounded my expectation again but this time by moving away from what I believed to be a fundamental attribute; by playing safe.
I enjoy a band that in a concert does something different to the studio version, that brings to the fore the the fact that this music is being created here and now only. I don’t think my problem is due to this band playing old material. KC playing a set of great pieces largely from the seventies is novel in itself and potentially really interesting. I’m happy to accept Fripp’s line that "all the music is new, whenever it was written" but it in reality all sounded a bit safe and colour-by-numbers. Perhaps this band feel that they don’t have ownership of material that they weren’t responsible for writing, that they don’t have the right to tear into it, I don’t know. There were no points for the band to go off the map. KC karaoke.
Jakko presents no strong musical personality and it seems he has been hired to reproduce Fripp’s secondary guitar lines or those that he cannot satisfactorily manage since his adoption of New Standard Tuning. I don’t like his rather characterless singing either although it’s only fair to judge him on material where he has been involved in its creation. On Meltdown his singing is fine, I have no expectation for comparison. (I’ve not heard Suitable Grounds For The Blues, it wasn’t performed at either concert that I attended. Does it have a vocal part?). Jakko’s inclusion rather than that of Adrian Belew does allow the band to play a set without any pressure to include songs written by the latter. A shame really.
I’ve seen many positive, even gushing, reviews of these concerts and wonder why my experience, and those of everyone who I attended the shows with, has been markedly different. These are reviews that I’ve been directed to by the DGM web-site however. How liberal is their alleged toleration to critical reviews? There seems to be delight that old ’classics’ are being played. I’m indifferent to this choice of material. Perhaps some of these reviewers have not witnessed the band in previous (terrifying) incarnations. They certainly have different ideas from me as to what has made King Crimson so special.
Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)
:: Posted by snkzato1 on September 18, 2015
Perhaps I’m thinking too much into it, but the song title sounds like it might be Robert’s response to his legal battles to get his music back and be properly paid.
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