Fearless and highly...thrakked?
A must-have show from the original Crimson, with quality fidelity and exceptional performance. All live recordings of this lineup can be a bit dodgy in terms of sound quality, but this one is better than the average. It's good enough that the subtleties of Lake's bass and Giles' drumming can be appreciated, and that's about as good as it gets from this time period. Even better, the mellotron stays in tune throughout! As for the performance, one can only marvel at how good this band was right off the bat. "21st Century Schizoid Man" is done at an awe-inspiring, blistering tempo, and the Donovan cover that follows is even more radical. Lake's melodic vocals drift atop very free, avant-garde arrangements that frequently veer into caustic improvisations (with some guitar playing that qualifies as early thrakking). It's aggressively abrasive but also exhilarating to behold - no other rock band from that year could do this kind of thing and keep it from dissolving into mush. This line-up was truly fearless, particularly in their willingness to use silence as part of the improv - they were not at all scared of venturing into unstructured territory, and the results are breathtaking. One of the best parts of the live shows from this line-up was the "Mantra/Travel Weary Capricorn/Improv/Mars" segment, which never got represented on a proper studio record (as much as I like "The Devil's Triangle" on the second album, it's no match for the live "Mars"). The guitar phrases of "Mantra" drift into more distorted areas than in some of the other '69 shows, almost feeling like a jazzier "Red" at times. "Capricorn" is a bit of a Giles, Giles & Fripp throwback (reworking some elements of "Wonderland"), but with more confidence and aggression, and the improv that it slides into is one of the main attractions of this show. And eventually it morphs into "Mars," perhaps the most terrifying and heavy thing happening in rock music at the time. Holst's piece is transformed into a bruising, gut-punching monster that's heavier than heavy metal and utterly scorching in its intensity. Those signature 5/4 riffs drift in like a stormcloud and grow more and more fearsome with every repetition, pummeling the listener with aural terror. As great as the debut album was, it only scratches the surface of what the original Crimson was capable of. Intellectual and visceral in equal measure, this show is a necessary addition for even the most casual of listeners.