'King Crimson': Concert Review

Robert Fripp and company deliver two hours of hypnotic music from throughout the band's 45-year career to a rapturous response

The legendary progressive rock band returns with its most expansive line-up yet

“Embrace the moment,” the soothing, English-accented voice instructed the audience in the recorded pre-show announcement. Advising us in no uncertain terms not to even consider using our cell phones, it went on to say, “Use your ears to record and your eyes to video.”

The voice, of course, belonged to Robert Fripp, the leader and one of the founding members of legendary progressive rock group King Crimson, whose first album was released a mere 45 years ago. And lo and behold, the audience, which largely consisted of middle-aged males, obeyed. The two-hour concert was performed with a blissful lack of electronic distractions and blinking lights, allowing the ecstatic crowd to enter the trance-like state that the music clearly demanded.

This incarnation of the group, and there have innumerable ones in its long, on-off history, is its most expansive and possibly its best yet. Certainly, such past members as singer/guitarist Adrian Belew and drummer Bill Bruford, among others, will be sorely missed by longtime fans. But there’s no denying the stunning instrumental virtuosity of this line-up consisting of players that have either been in previous versions or who have a history with Fripp. Its most notable element is its line-up of three, count ‘em, three drummers (Bill Rieflin, Pat Mastelotto and Gavin Harrison), who were lined up at the foot of the stage like a percussive murderer’s row. This Crimson also included Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, Mel Collins on flute and sax, and Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocals.

The show at once managed to dig deep into their repertoire, including many songs dating back to the ‘70s, and seem forward thinking as well, with new arrangements that showcased the expanded line-up. Numbers like “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Parts One and Two,” “Red,” “Pictures of a City” and “Starless” incited immediate frenzied reactions.

The drummers managed the incredible feat of staying out each other’s way, sometimes melding together seamlessly and other times trading off parts, including the gently insistent tapping of cymbals, with precise timing. With Rieflin also playing the mellotron, the trio was frequently given a chance to shine with extended percussion-only interludes.

The sinuous, intricate music encompassed innumerable styles--free-form jazz, muscular rock, funky grooves, psychedelica, etc.—but was nearly always hypnotic. Anchoring it all, of course, was Fripp, unassumingly sitting at a rear corner of the stage and employing his frequently distorted guitars with such stylistic divergence that it was hard to believe there was only one of him. And although most of the evening’s musical was instrumental, Jakszyk contributed haunting vocals on such songs as “A Scarcity of Miracles,” “The Letters” and the encore of the thunderous “21st Century Schizoid Man,” the latter dating all the way back to the group’s debut album In the Court of the Crimson King.    

Throughout the show, not a single member of the group uttered a word, with the interludes between songs featuring a recording of an actual or faux interview conducted by a stammering journalist. But the band members’ joy in their playing and the rapturous reception they received was obvious during the curtain calls, which included—ironically, considering the pre-show announcement—bassist Levin happily snapping pictures of the crowd.

Set List

Lark's Tongue in Aspic 1

A Scarcity of Miracles

Hells Bells

Level Five

The Letters

Sailor's Tale

"interlude"

The Construktion of Light

Red

One More Red Nightmare

VROOM

The Talking Drum

Lark's Tongue in Aspic 2

Starless

Hellhounds

21st Century Schizoid Man

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