King Crimson 2016

King Crimson

Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
Monday 5th September 2016

The second of only two dates in their home country on the latest outing for King Crimson (Mk8.1) sees the band that forced what became known as progressive rock, pink of face and manic of stare, into the underground rock spotlight way back in October 1969 go back to their roots…sort of. Curated by Friars Aylesbury, the original venue now long gone, this legendary club played host to some of the band’s earliest dates, and now, resident in the modern theatre that is the Waterside, witnessed the latest incarnation of the musical entity known as King Crimson raise the roof once more.

Playing for almost three hours over two sets, separated by a mere 20-minute interval, the band weaved its way through a set list covering all bases apart from the ’80s Belew years, as was the case this time last year, only this time around sounding more relaxed and comfortable with the now familiar three-drummer line up, stretched it out to a veritable Banquet of Crim. It seems the 2015 dates were merely the hor d’oeuvres.

In contrast to last year, which made its glorious entry with the double punch of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part 1) followed by Red, the need for such instant impact now sated, we were treated to the more genteel entrée of Lizard (Battle of the Glass Tears), a real Crimson rarity in a live setting in this or any era.

The “Schizoid Man Mk.2” of Pictures of a City was followed by an exemplary version of Cirkus and it is already noted how much Jakko’s voice has settled and grown twelve months on. Modern internet social interaction being what it is, I already knew that we were in for a righteous pummelling by Fracture, a tune that the band in whatever guise have not played live for decades, and a long-time favourite of this writer. The original did not include a part for baritone sax, and it felt a bit odd listening to Mel Collins’ parping away in the lower register, but I realised it was just right once I got used to it. Watching Fripp play those seemingly impossibly fast arpeggios, barely even looking at his fretwork makes one realise what a master of his craft he is, and what a uniquely individual voice he has. Simply stunning.

The new drummer Jeremy Stacey, replacing Bill Rieflin, has a more direct style and the three drummers when playing off one another in the round, as on a fearsome Red gave proceedings more than the required rhythmic heft to satisfy all those who still harp on about missing Bruford. Of the drummers, Gavin Harrison leads the unit, being nearly always at the centre of things. Pat Mastelotto, with his various electronic boxes and strangely shaped metal percussives supplies back up muscle and the “Jamie Muir” embellishments, and his drum roadie who has to set all that up deserves special mention. Stacey is also no slouch on the keyboards, supplying electric piano and Mellotron where needed, in fact the keyboards took up a fair proportion of his time, but with Pat and Gavin either side of him it wasn’t as the rhythms were ever lacking!

“Happy Birthday, Mel!” someone shouted in a gap between numbers, prompting a round of applause for the 69-years young reeds player who was on fire all night. Quietly masterful, and as ever in complete charge of whatever low-end stringed instrument he happened to be playing, Tony Levin looked completely at home in this set up, as indeed he should do.

In the first half, Easy Money was a highlight, with some great interplay between Collins’ baritone sax and the high and fast funky chording of the guitars, not to mention Jakko’s best vocal performance of the night. Fripp’s strung out sustain solo in the middle of the song is a gorgeous thing, and remains capable of transporting this audient to another place, the tune eventually playing out to furious strumming as the vocal refrain returns. Fripp, as ever, remains inscrutable.

Of the “new” songs, Meltdown seems to have grown in confidence from last year, and in the second half the other “new” one, Suitable Grounds for the Blues, is also now a snug fit. Only Crimson could play a blues in an odd time signature like that and get away with it! With those two and the new instrumentals, “Radical” or otherwise, there is at least the beginnings of a new studio album. One hopes that part of Fripp’s “Drive to 2018” is the recording and releasing of this and more new material. As a constant critic of the modern nostalgia industry aimed at folk my age I would not want Crimson to go the way of many others, and cannot imagine Fripp would either. If they ever appear on one of those prog cruises I’ll eat my many ticket stubs.

Anyway…back to the matter in hand. This being one of only two dates in The UK this time round, the audience had a fair number of international attendees, the enthused American lady next to me being one example of many. The Crimson family is a worldwide thing, cultural differences subsumed in the Crimson Otherworld.

One song the band has played at virtually every gig since it was written is Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (whichever part). Not this time though, not that I minded having seen it last year. The pairing of The Letters and Sailor’s Tale remains scintillating with the fast syncopated rhythm section tossing Fripp’s sustain guitar on the waves. Sailor’s Tale is simply one of many examples of the very high quality of musicianship on display. The fade to red at the end of a mesmerising version of Starless saw the finale of the main concert, and again, although I knew it was coming, watching Fripp play that iconic guitar line from Bowie’s “Heroes” in the encore, played in unmentioned tribute to the sadly and much missed Mr Jones, brought a lump to my throat. I wasn’t alone, the American lady being in a similar pre-lachrymose state, as no doubt was a large proportion of the wider audience.

We end with the inevitable 21st Century Schizoid Man and the band take their bows, the appearance of T Lev’s camera signalling the audience to return the clicking of virtual shutters, but I was so swept up in it all, I forgot to take any pictures. They would have been rubbish anyway! We say our goodbyes to brief friendships made while under the umbrella of the Crimson family, and leave to find our ways home, sated and somewhat slightly dazed.

Set 1:

Lizard (Battle of the Glass Tears)
Radical Action II
Pictures of a City
Hell Hounds of Krim
Easy Money
Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Set 2:
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
Level Five
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
The ConstruKction of Light
The Letters
Sailor’s Tale
One More Red Nightmare
~ Encore:
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
21st Century Schizoid Man

Gavin Harrison – Drums
Jeremy Stacey – Drums, Keyboards, Mellotron
Pat Mastelotto – Drums, “Jamie Muir” by way of metal things and electronics
Robert Fripp – Guitar, Mellotron
Jakko Jakszyk – Vocals, Guitar
Tony Levin – Bass Guitar, Stick, Upright Bass
Mel Collins – Saxophones, Flute, 69th Birthday

King Crimson – Website | Facebook
Robert Fripp – Website | Facebook
Tony Levin – Website | Facebook
Pat Mastelotto – Website | Facebook
Gavin Harrison – Website | Facebook
Jakko Jakszyk – Website | Facebook
Jeremy Stacey – Facebook
Mel Collins – Facebook