King Crimson: They Have Their Own Planet
I mean, they MUST have their own planet; they’re certainly not from this orb. Robert Fripp and his six King Crimson bandmates perform with such otherworldly precision and grace. At Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida, Thursday, July 22, they delivered a show that can best be described as ASTONISHING, although feel free to heap on any superlative adjectives you like if you were there.
They had beamed down from, well, from wherever they come from to Clearwater July 16 to rehearse for their first concert in a year and ten days. Those fortunate enough to attend the dress rehearsal show Tuesday sang similar, familiar praises. Their Music is Our Friend tour of 27 shows opened at Ruth Eckerd, and last night they were in West Palm Beach.
[NOTE: This is part one of a two-part story about TWO astonishing concerts the same evening. The other was NOW VS NOW at Dunedin Brewery later in the evening.]
This photo provided by the band shows the evening’s setlist and the script for the show time-wise. It ran precisely like clockwork all evening long. The setlist includes abbreviations and shortened versions of song titles; at the end are both the short version and one with complete song titles.
The California Guitar Trio opened the show with a tight 30-minute set. Paul Richards and Bert Lams played acoustic guitars. Substituting for Hideyo Moriya was Chapman stick player Tom Greisgraber. Songs ranged from more mellow to very hard-edged. There was some beautiful twin guitar playing and superb slide work. Greisgraber’s Chapman stick achieved some amazing orchestral sounds. They closed with a rousing version of “Echoes,” beginning with the three members throwing tones back and forth. The Chapman drone, slide guitar, and funky beat were impressive.
On at 7:30, off at 8:00. Pure precision, just like the music to follow.
[The Chapman Stick, per Wikipedia, is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. A member of the guitar family, the Chapman Stick usually has ten or twelve individually tuned strings and is used to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures.]
King Crimson since its reformation in 2013*: Robert Fripp, guitar, keyboards, mellotron, electronics; Mel Collins, saxophones, flute, bass flute, mellotron, backing vocals; Tony Levin, bass, Chapman stick, synthesisers, backing vocals; Pat Mastelotto, drums, percussion, programming; Gavin Harrison, drums, percussion; Jakko Jakszyk, lead vocals, guitar, flute, keyboards; Jeremy Stacey*, drums, keyboards. Stacey joined the group in 2016.
As has been the Crimson trademark, the four men on the riser were dressed in dark grey slacks and vest with a white shirt and red tie (Collins wore a suit jacket). The three drummers wore black or dark shirts (Stacey wore a bowler as well).
To wild applause, the men of King Crimson stood on stage at 8:30, and by 8:32 they were down to business, digging into a titanic “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic 1.” The stage was set so that the three drummers were out front on short risers, and the other four members of the band were on a tall riser behind them. Stacey is a critical addition to the band, also playing keyboards (piano, synths, Mellotron, and more). Mel Collins was on tenor sax for the opener and would play baritone, soprano, and flute throughout the evening. Levin began on Chapman stick, and Stacey played synths and drums.
It is absolutely impossible NOT to talk about the three drummers. If this had just been a three-man drum show, I assure you we would all have gotten our money’s worth and much more. In the words of superb music critic and bass player Phillip Booth, “Phenomenal three-drumset, one-brain drumming and improvisations by Pat Mastelloto, Gavin Harrison & Jeremy Stacey.” They were so tightly in lockstep (the entire band is, of course). The occasions where one started a sequence and handed it off to the next man and the next and back were simply stunning.
Over the course of the night, the band would tackle three songs from In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), one from Lizard (1971), two from Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973), three from Red (1974), one from Discipline (1981), one from Beat (1982), and two from Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of the Monkey Mind (2016).
Collins picked up the flute, and Levin strapped on his bass for “Suitable Grounds for the Blues,” one of the new tunes from Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of the Monkey Mind. Jakszyk stepped up to the mic to sing; interestingly, early on his voice reminded of Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee! On “Red,” Stacey played piano, and Collins had a tenor sax feature. Stacey then ripped some powerhouse rocker piano, Collins on flute, and Fripp on incredible ostinato guitar.
“Cirkus” opened with Jakszyk singing and Stacey on piano. Collins played both baritone and tenor, the synths swirled, and I scribbled in my notes: WOW! (an understatement). Jakszyk’s voice was now fondly reminiscent of Greg Lake’s, especially as they dove into “Epitaph” from the debut album. Stacey’s Mellotron was pure magic, Jakszyk had a superb guitar solo, and Collins’ best work was on soprano sax. [Ed. note: Jeff Moellering posits that it is likely a digital version of the Mellotron. I suspect he is correct. It sure sounded fine!]
The music got monstrously heavy during “One More Red Nightmare,” an almost funky tune. Fripp’s solo underneath the vocals was amazing, and there was more of that mind-blowing drum trade-off stuff that left the crowd shaking their heads. They shut down the 49-minute first set with a riveting “Indiscipline.” There was another drum trade-off, fine harmony vocals from Levin, and face-melting ensemble work all around.
Before the show and during set break, there were spacey sounds playing through the house, very trippy indeed.
They began set two with “Neurotica” from Beat, a short but very powerful tune. Levin was back on Chapman stick, Collins on baritone, and the drummers again doing their thing (that NEVER got old). The crowd swelled at the opening of “In the Court of the Crimson King/The Return of the Fire Witch/The Dance.” Collins’ flute and Stacey’s Mellotron paved the way. Fripp was alternately on guitar and synths. Stacey switched to piano, then to harpsichord sound under the vocals.
Things veered distinctly metal prog during “Radical Action,” with a wonderful flute solo! Levin was on bass, then switched mid-song to Chapman stick, with Collins back on baritone. This got really deep. As they blasted into “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic 5,” I wrote HOLY SHIT. Because DAMN…
The set closed with “Starless” from Red, a revamped version of “Starless and Bible Black.” Fripp had another otherworldly solo, synths swirled, Collins again tore it up on soprano, and there was a masterful interlude with percussion, guitar, and bass. That was a 33-minute set that lasted hours in the brain. So much music crammed into such a short space!
They walked off. Often I kvetch about audiences expecting an encore, just waiting for the band to come back on. NOT THIS CROWD! It was a rabid response (well, mine sure was). They came back on, and…
“21CST”? You bet! Everything about this was perfection: the guitars and tenor sax opening, that guitar shriek just before the vocals begin, the metallic-sounding vocals, the brilliant middle section, Collins’ tenor solo, Harrison’s drum solo, and Stacey making glockenspiel sounds.
However, nothing — but nothing — matched the stunningly brilliant way they ended the song, everybody in unison and the drummers standing and playing a cymbal and then muting it. NOTHING.
ASTONISHING, SPECTACULAR, BRILLIANT, [feel free to add your own]
[SHORT VERSION: SET ONE: LTIA 1, Suitable Grounds, Red, Cirkus, Epitaph, OMRN, Indiscipline; SET TWO: Neurotica, ITCOTCK, Radical Action, LTIA 5, Starless; E: 21CSM]
[FULL VERSION: SET ONE: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic 1, Suitable Grounds for the Blues, Red, Cirkus (including Entrance of the Chameleons), Epitaph, One More Red Nightmare, Indiscipline; SET TWO: Neurotica, In the Court of the Crimson King/The Return of the Fire Witch/The Dance, Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of the Monkey Mind), Larks’ Tongues in Aspic 5, Starless; E: 21st Century Schizoid Man]
Bottom line: if this challenging music appeals to you, there are 25 more opportunities to get an up-close-and-personal look at actual spacemen from the Red planet… or somewhere!
MUSIC IS OUR FRIEND TOUR
07/24 St. Augustine Amphitheatre | St. Augustine FL
07/26 Dr. Phillips Walt Disney Theater | Orlando FL
07/27 The Fox | Atlanta GA
07/28 Ryman Auditorium | Nashville TN
07/30 Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium | Ft. Worth TX
07/31 H-E-B Center | Cedar Park TX
08/02 Fiddlers Green Amphitheater | Greenwood Village CO
08/03 Sandy Amphitheater | Sandy UT
08/05 Concord Pavlion | Concord CA
08/06 The Greek | Los Angeles CA
08/07 Talking Stick Ballroom | Scottsdale AZ
08/23 SPAC | Saratoga Springs NY
08/24 The Pines Theater | Northampton MA
08/26 CMAC | Canandaigua NY
08/27 Artpark Amphitheater | Lewiston NY
08/28 MeadowBrook Amphitheater | Rochester Hills MI
08/29 Ravinia | Highland Park IL
08/31 Miller High Life Theatre | Milwaukee WI
09/01 Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica | Cleveland OH
09/02 Rose Music Center | Huber Heights OH
09/04 PNC Bank Arts Center | Holmdel NJ
09/07 The Mann Center | Philadelphia PA
09/09 Forest Hills Stadium | New York NY
09/10 Leader Bank Pavilion | Boston MA
09/11 The Anthem | Washington DC
[Ed. note: this was only my second King Crimson show, although I have been a fan forever. As a junior in college, I was chairman of the concert committee. We ran two major shows per year. The second show I ran, in March of 1972, was Mahavishnu Orchestra (they had formed in the summer of 1971). My first show — and what an odd pairing, owing to booking agents — almost 50 years ago was King Crimson opening for Edgar Winter’s White Trash!]