I’ve been away from home with spotty internet access for the last few days, so part two of Zorn at the Vanguard isn’t ready yet; but in the meantime we’ve got a submission from our new Massachusetts correspondent, Mike Stack, who traveled to Albany to catch King Crimson on their current tour. – Sarah V.
King Crimson is, quite unexpectedly, back, and with a new lineup. Parting ways with their 30-year frontman, guitarist and singer Adrian Belew, the band reformed with 3 drummers (!) – 20-year band veteran Pat Mastellotto, Gavin Harrison (who joined the band in the 2008 tour) and newcomer Bill Reiflin. The three are set up as the so-called “front line”, joined by the “back line”, Mel Collins on saxophones and flutes (a veteran of the band circa 1970-1972), Tony Levin returning on bass and Chapman Stick (Mr. Levin having served in this role with the band in the ’80s, ’90s and their 2008 tour), guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk (son-in-law of original Crimson drummer Michael Giles and former frontman of the Crimson reunion band 21st Century Schizoid Band) and of course, guitarist and band leader Robert Fripp. This tour, dubbed “The Elements of King Crimson” (and occasionally, the more concerning “Farewell Tour”), is something I never anticipated – a look back for a band that always looked forward.
Given that it was within driving distance, there was no way I could miss opening night at a truly unique concert venue, The Egg in Albany, New York (Google it, it’s something to behold). King Crimson, of course, has their famous “no photos” policy, so I didn’t risk it, but I did snap a shot of the stage setup beforehand, the unique drummer front-line on full display:
The band began their romp through their history with “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part I” (last performed by them live some 40 years ago), and winded through two hours of music, mostly Crimson classics, though a pair of cuts from 2011’s “A Scarcity of Miracles” (credited to Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins) also found their way into the setlist. I think the first truly noteworthy performance was an absolutely ferocious reading of “One More Red Nightmare” (never previously performed live by the band), with Collins picking up his baritone sax and adding grit and color to the monster guitar riff that opens the piece alongside Mastelotto’s explosive drumming effort. Another pleasant surprise was “The Letters” (from 1971’s Islands), not a song I’ve ever really loved, but Fripp seemed to revel in the guitar riff, Collins took an absolutely magnificent solo turn and Jakszyk sounded born to sing the part. Fripp also got a chance to really air it out on another cut from Islands, “A Sailors Tale” – his legendary chord solo was just jaw-dropping to hear live. The band closed their main set with a magnificent reading of the legendary “Starless”, bringing the entire room to its feet, perhaps moreso than the expected encore of “21st Century Schizoid Man”.
There’s no footage of the new band out there yet, but the band put up a drum feature on their YouTube channel, so at least a taste is available:
And while I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, bassist Tony Levin has got some great shots on his blog: http://www.papabear.com/tours/crim14/crim14_9.htm
Having not heard much of the old material live, either by Crimson or by the reunion band a few years back, much of the material was interesting to see; but I have to say I was a little disappointed to find the second half of the band’s legacy virtually ignored. Despite many excellent records over the 30 years Adrian Belew fronted the band, the two-hour show featured only an abbreviated reading of 2000’s “The ConstruKction of Light” (ending before the vocal section of the piece) and 1994’s instrumental “VROOOM”. The latter got a fantastic reading – the front line attacked the piece with gusto, and Collins doubling his bari sax on the bass line added substantial weight. Still, it seemed like something was lacking since none of the classic vocal pieces from the era were heard – I could understand avoiding signature Belew pieces like “Elephant Talk”, but I think this band could have done a great take on “Three of a Perfect Pair” or “Dinosaur” and it would have greatly augmented the night. I also have to say, I really missed Belew’s pyrotechnics during “Red”. Honestly, much as I love the piece, it felt a bit flat without him.
These misgivings aside, after the brief 2008 tour melted down into Fripp’s declaration that the King Crimson switch had been set to off, followed by his 2012 announcement that he was retiring from live performance, I never thought I’d see King Crimson play live again with leader Robert Fripp. A look back was unusual and exciting – I’m seeing them again next week in Boston and I’m really looking forward to it. The band has tour dates on their website, definitely an opportunity that fans should not miss.