Close Encounters Of The Fripp Kind
We flew all the way from Australia to see this show, after I somehow convinced my wife that we should take a slight detour via Hamburg on the way to our planned holiday in Portugal, as I figured that sadly, I’m probably never going to see King Crimson play the Sydney Opera House.
We holed up in the Hamburg Park Hyatt to get over the jetlag, and on the morning of the concert at breakfast I was surprised to see a gentleman who looked a lot like Mr Fripp sitting at a table quite near us, drinking coffee and looking intently at his Macbook.
As we’d volunteered to sell programs for the show that night, I bravely thought I might say “Hi.” I approached him and gamely asked, “Excuse me, are you Robert Fripp?” He looked up grumpily from the screen and replied “No.” Embarrassed that I’d disturbed this poor Fripp-alike I apologised and left.
You can imagine my surprise that night at the Mehr! Theater, when this very same Fripp impersonator was onstage with his fellow Crimsonians making the most incredible music I have ever heard. For a guy who isn’t Robert Fripp he can really play guitar, a lot like the actual Robert Fripp. As can Jakko Jakszyk, as well as being able to sing like Greg Lake, Gordon Haskell, Boz Burrell, John Wetton, and not surprisingly, himself. Tony Levin plays bass, upright and electric and the Chapman stick just like Tony Levin, if not better! And Mel Collins, a more masterful musician than he ever was, added excellent air via a variety of saxes, flute and clarinet, all in the right places.
Prior to the performance I was a little concerned that the frontline of three drummers might be a bit bombastic, but the six-armed three-headed drumming machine that is Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey, interplayed with such finesse and sensitivity that the percussion was never overpowering, except when it was supposed to be. So incredible is their combined drumming that I’d happily go to see them perform without their equally amazing backline.
What also impressed (apart from hearing all my favourites from the first seven albums) was how well the new material sat with the older material, reminding me of number four of ‘The Seven Principles of King Crimson’ – “All the music is new, whenever it was written.” Everything sounded fresh, polished, the older tracks better than they ever sounded. This wasn’t nostalgia as much as it was reinvention.
Which brings me to what might probably have impressed me most – the sheer sound quality. I’ve been to many concerts over the years, but in almost every other instance there’s been some kind of audio inadequacy - bass too loud, mix too muddy, vocals buried, etc. Not this concert. Every note, every word was crisp, clear, in a word, perfect.
I walked out of the Mehr! Theater a very happy man, and not just because my programme duties had scored me a free KC t-shirt and programme. It was the fulfilment of an almost lifelong dream to see King Crimson in concert, and to have seen this line up, the best ever in my opinion, made the experience even better than I could ever possibly have imagined.
The next morning at breakfast, he was there again, that man who looks just like Mr Fripp! I desperately wanted to go up to him and ask “Still not Robert Fripp?” I also wanted to tell him how fantastic he and his band were the night before, but if he wasn’t Robert Fripp he wouldn’t have known what I was talking about and if he was Robert Fripp, I’m sure he already knows this. I also considered going up to him and asking “Excuse me, are you Phil Manzanera?” just to mess with him, but my wife wisely told me to “Let the man eat his breakfast in peace.” So I did. But it is with much gratitude that I thank all the members of King Crimson, and their crew, (as well as Adrian and his merch team,) for providing me with one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life… You know, you really should come and play the Sydney Opera House, in 2017!