King Crimson The Usher Hall Edinburgh 17th September 2015
“When music appears which only King Crimson can play then, sooner or later, King Crimson appears to play the music.” Robert Fripp
It is more than 40 years since my last King Crimson live experience.
7.30pm sharp. Seven guys in three piece suits, looking like they could be attending a bank managers’ conference, walk onto the Usher Hall stage. This is the 8th incarnation of King Crimson and features Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto (three drummers), Tony Levin (stick bass), Mel Collins (sax, flute), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, vocals) and (of course) Robert Fripp (guitar). The house lights are still on. Our Crimson musos take their places without saying anything. The three drummers sit at the front of stage, one to the left, one centre and one to the right. Each drum sports the rather disconcerting image of an Edwardian-looking boy with one eye in the centre of his forehead, which features in the publicity for the tour. Jakko’s guitar is adorned with the red face from the cover of the first Crimson album. The lights go down and the music starts. The sound is crisp, clear. The songs are largely unfamiliar to me, but I gather that they are drawn from across the suite of King Crimson albums. Fripp describes the new band thus:”King Crimson VIII moved to its next stage of actualization. This is a very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers. The Point Of Crim-Seeing was of a conventional Back Line reconfigured as the Front Line, The Seven-Headed Beast of Crim is in Go! mode.”
The music is a mix of dark, heavy foreboding guitar, mucho drums, very jazzy at times, almost classical at others. The tempo drifts from heavy metal through prog through folk. Robert Fripp sits stage right, wearing headphones, alternating between squeezing strange riffs from his guitar and observing and quietly leading his musicians. I am reminded how unique and ground breaking Crimson were, and are. “Epitaph” takes us back to that classic prog-defining first lp. Wonderful. I am transported back to days of my youth so many years ago, when I sat with friends; we listened to that album in total awe; we discussed it endlessly and took it to school, proudly holding that red cover for all to see. They close with “Starless”. It is 9.30pm. The lights go on. We stand and clap, and cheer, and clap some more. The seven Crimson guys return. They still have not spoken. “Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row” gives the drummers the opportunity to show their skills. Then Crimson are transformed once again into prog-gods who tell us the exquisite tale of “The Court of the Crimson King”. Finally, the dark fear of the “21st Century Schizoid Man” takes us through a wall of screaming discordant terror to a crashing squealing climatic end. Mind blowing stuff.
A note about my drive home. Are there roadworks and diversions every night across the entire country? I always seem to hit them. I have a detour through Scottish villages just north of the border; the A1 is closed near Dunbar. Home at 1am.
Setlist: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One; Red; Suitable Grounds for the Blues; Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind); Meltdown; The ConstruKction of Light; Level Five; Banshee Legs Bell Hassle; Pictures of a City; Epitaph; Hell Hounds of Krim; Easy Money; The Letters; Sailor’s Tale; Starless
Encore: Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row; The Court of the Crimson King; 21st Century Schizoid Man
Archive for the ‘King Crimson’ Category
King Crimson The Usher Hall Edinburgh 17th September 2015
King Crimson Newcastle Odeon 8th December 1972
My memory has been playing tricks with me again. I was convinced that I saw King Crimson in 1974, around the time of the “Red” album. But no, when I checked, I found that I was wrong again, as I often am these days. The concert that I saw took place on Friday 8th December 1972, when Robert Fripp and his mighty band played at Newcastle Odeon, not that long before the release of their fifth album “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”. This was the one and only time that I saw King Crimson in concert, and I went with my friend John. Support came from Lloyd Watson who I have blogged on separately, as John and I went to see him playing in a pub in Peterborough a few years ago. Lloyd won the solo category of the Melody Maker competition in 1972, appeared on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” and did two British tours, one supporting King Crimson and the other Roxy Music.
I went along to the Odeon that night with tunes from Crimson’s glorious first album running through my head, hoping to hear songs like “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “Epitaph”. Of course, the band didn’t play either of those tunes. I should have expected that, as the line-up of King Crimson had changed completely (apart from main man Robert Fripp) just prior to the tour. The line-up for the late 1972 UK tour was: leader Robert Fripp on guitar; John Wetton, fresh from Family and now coming to the fore on vocals and bass; Bill Bruford, who had just left Yes, on drums, David Cross on violin, flute, and keyboards; and Jamie Muir on percussion. Newcastle Odeon was a massive venue which was far from full for this gig, and John and I claimed some empty seats, which were much closer to the front than the cheap (60p! bargain :)) rear stalls tickets we had bought. The show was not what I expected. It was much more improvisation, and jazz, than rock. King Crimson started with a long instrumental track featuring Cross on violin and Muir on percussion which, based on setlists from the period, must have been “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part 1)”. Fripp remained seated throughout the performance, speaking to the audience only to announce the songs at one point. John Wetton handled the vocals on those songs that had any. But the guy who sticks in my memory from this concert is Jamie Muir. Muir came from a free improvisation background and “contributed an assortment of unusual sounds from a wide variety of percussion instruments, including chimes, bells, thumb piano, mbiras, a musical saw, shakers, rattles, found objects, and miscellaneous drums” (from Wikipedia). His performance that evening was just incredible. The only familiar song was “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which was was the final track and was loud, dark and very heavy. Overall I left the gig unsure as to what I had just witnessed. I found it pretty heavy going at the time. The set consisted of the entire “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” album (which had not yet been released, so the material was all new and unfamiliar to the audience), closer “Schizoid Man”, and some free improvisation numbers. I’ve just googled and found a live recording on YouTube of a gig at Hull Technical College around the same time. I listened to some of it, and it sounds great! This concert is another one that seems much better on reflection than I probably realised at the time (if that makes any sense :)). And its also another concert which I would love to go back in time to, and experience all over again. Setlist from the Hull Technical College recording: Walk On… No Pussyfooting; Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part I); Book of Saturday; Robert Fripp announces the songs to be played; Improvisation: Vista Training College Under Spot Light; Exiles; Easy Money; Improvisation: Fallen Angel Hullabaloo; The Talking Drum; Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II); 21st Century Schizoid Man. I am pretty sure that the Newcastle performance was a similar set. King Crimson are another band on my ever growing list of bands to see again (if, of course, Fripp ever decides to reform the band).