by Mitch Goldman
It's been over ten years since Robert Fripp broke up the last version of King Crimson (Fripp on guitar, Adrian Belew on guitar/vocals, Tony Levin on bass/stick, and Bill Bruford on percussion). I've waited somewhat impatiently since Fripp's announcement in early 92 that he was forming a new version of Crimson, this time a "double trio". Since Fripp's reason for disbanding that last Crimson was that the band's sound was too busy and dynamic, it's surprising that he's added two members to the 80's incarnation (Trey Gunn on stick, and Pat Mastellato on drums). But if you've heard the mini-lp VROOOM, released last year, or the full length THRAK from this past April, you know how well this new Crimson works.
After a spate of well received Europe shows, KC hit North America at the end of May, and rolled into New York City for two shows in the intimate (1500 seats) Town Hall in midtown. The first show, on Saturday June 3, was nothing short of spectacular.
The show started at 8pm on the dot, with the California Guitar Trio, three guys (*not* from California) who mix jazz, classical, movie soundtracks, and progressive music, all with acoustic guitars. Their range and the precision of their playing are both quite impressive. The best moment from their set was a cover of Ennio Morricone's theme to "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". They ended their set with a Raymond Scott-type piece that sounded like "Ren and Stimpy" music.
Crimson came on stage (to a standing ovation) at 8:52pm. Towards the front of the stage, from left to right, were Gunn, Belew, and Levin. Mastellato and Bruford were positioned at the back, and Fripp sat on his trademark stool directly between the drummers, ALL the way at the back of the stage. He clearly does not want to be the visual center of the band. Our seats were in the seventh row, all the way to the right, which unfortunately prevented us from seeing Bill Bruford (though I could see his sticks flying on occasion!). Otherwise, our view was spectacular.
The show ran from 8:52 to 10:38pm (about an hour and 45 minutes)...the set consisted of....
Coda: Marine 4754
Frame by Frame
Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream
The Talking Drum->
Lark's Tongue in Aspic, Part Two
VROOOM VROOOM: Coda
Walking On Air
From the first notes of VROOOM, it was apparent that this new Crimson is as ferocious a musical beast as the past incarnations. Bruford and Mastellato *never* stepped on each other, synching up flawlessly throughout the show. Similarly, Levin and Gunn complemented each other extremely well. Levin only played stick on the "Discipline" era numbers; otherwise, he stuck to five string electric bass or a modernized upright bass which he bowed.
VROOOM led directly into an instrumental version of "Coda: Marine 475". "Frame by Frame" was played similarly to the "Discipline" era versions. "Dinosaur" featured Belew's synthesized guitar playing; he duplicated the mellotron parts that Fripp plays on the THRAK lp. This song was particularly intense, especially during its ending, which is purposefully reminiscent of "Red". Things calmed down with the ballad "One Time" on which Belew's vocal was particularly moving, as was Levin's amazing descending bass riff.
Then came the first time in the show in which Belew *really* let loose...from the ascending opening riff of "Red" the theatre went nuts. This was the first 70's era tune of the evening, and most Crimson fans would list "Red" (the album and the song) as a highpoint of the John Wetton era Crimson. Belew slammed his fist on the body of his Stratocaster, wrenched the neck and headstock in search of the perfect bended note, smiled like a little kid, and in general took this song to an amazingly intense height. Fripp held down the general structure of the tune (which was his role all night...Belew played the amiable rock star to Fripp's seated, composed, thoughful virtuoso) while Belew got "physical" with his axe. An extraordinary moment.
Everyone left the stage at this point except for the drummers and Fripp. Fripp played a short "soundscape" with his MIDI-ed up guitar, which sounded like washes of synth textures. This led into the THRAK drum duet "B'Boom" (which showcased both drummers extremely well), which led into a lengthy "THRAK", for which the rest of the band returned. This was the extended version of the song, similar to the EP track. This segued into Gunn and Levin performing a beautiful, breathless stick duet. There were moments of quiet during this piece that were absolutely stunning. Levin then played the percussive intro to "Elephant Talk" and the crowd cheered noisily. Belew made his usual patented animal noises on his Strat during "Talk"; this is clearly a crowd favorite (as is all of the "Discipline" material).
Things got quiet again for a beautiful version of "Matte Kudesai" on which Belew's slide playing reminded me of seagull sounds. "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" followed, which for me is the low point of the THRAK lp. But the live version was tight as hell, funky as only Crimson gets, and a major improvement over the studio versions. "VROOOM VROOOM" followed (probably confusing anyone not owning the lp, as it's real similar to "VROOOM"); this sounded pretty close to the lp version, as did "People", which also included more than a little funk feel. "Indiscipline" came next, featuring a duet between Bruford and Levin; Bruford's drumming was so tasty that the entire band was looking at him and smiling (Belew sat down on the drum riser and watched in amazement!). The song itself was one of the more intense moments, so intense that Fripp actually got up off his stool at one point! At song's end, all six members took a bow to a standing ovation.
The first encore started with an unrecorded piece called "B'Bish", a Latin-tinged percussive piece that led into "The Talking Drum" another Wetton-era tune. This was played much faster than the versions played in the 70's. This of course segued directly into "Lark's Tongue in Aspic" which was intense, stunning, melodic, abrasive...every contradictory sound and emotion that this beast could summon. Again, the band took a bow to a standing ovation.
The final encore began with the coda to "VROOOM VROOOM" and ended with the quiet, beautiful, Beatle-esque "Walking On Air". Another standing ovation, and the house lights came on.
Nearly two hours of some of the most intense, progressive, moving, yes, *adult* music you'll hear this or any year. King Crimson in 95 is every bit as monstrously amazing as they were in 1981. Don't miss them...you'll regret it. Now if Fripp can only keep this lineup together for a few more years and a couple more albums, he'll have added yet another legendary chapter to the King Crimson story.