“We have the burden of being called a prog band,” says King Crimson bassist/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin. “When I hear ‘prog rock,’ it means a band playing music like the late Sixties and early Seventies, when prog rock came to be. That’s fine, but King Crimson happens to be at least trying to progress ever since.”
The British collective, playing its first Austin gig since 1995 and only its second since 1981, could’ve stuck with variations on its pioneering 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King, but has refused to repeat itself throughout its near-50-year career. Led as ever by guitarist/conceptualizer Robert Fripp, this unusually configured incarnation of Crimson includes Levin, saxophonist Mel Collins, singer/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, keyboardist Bill Rieflin, and a total of three drummers: Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey, and Austin-based Pat Mastelotto.
“I expected to be in the background just thumping along on the downbeat,” jokes Levin about the percussion-heavy format. “But the drummers fashioned so many interesting approaches while never playing the same thing. It’s not as chaotic as you would think.”
For the virtuoso bassist, whose résumé includes sessions with David Bowie, Yes, and John Lennon, that kind of provocation is the reason he’s stayed with the band for so long.
“Crimson has, since 1980-’81, been my most challenging musical experience,” Levin says with obvious pride. “I have fun in it, but more importantly, it’s the time for me to improve my playing. It’s an interesting environment, where each player is pushing himself to not do what he did before, to be musically valid and to come up with some new ‘progressive music.’
“I won’t say that we always succeed, but that’s where we’re aiming. As you can tell by my talking about it, it’s a wonderful experience for me.”
Full Q&A at austinchronicle.com/daily/music.– Michael Toland