King Crimson Kills

Approaching a half-century of progress

Except for a drive-by gig by one of its side Projekcts and a reunion several years ago from an ex-employees Crimson Projekct, Austin hadn’t hosted a proper King Crimson performance in 22 years. On Thursday night, in a Bass Concert Hall brimming with Crimfans waiting two decades to see their monarch, the reception bordered on ecstatic.

Nobody could blame us. We would’ve moved a mountain of dinosaur shit in order to finally hear these songs live. We didn’t have to, fortunately.

In the Court of the Crimson King: (l-r) Austin’s Pat Mastelotto (d), Mel Collins (f), Tony Levin (b), Jeremy Stacey (d), Bill Rieflin (k), Jakko Jakszyk (g/v), Robert Fripp (g), and Gavin Harrison (d) – seen here at an earlier performance. Photographers weren’t allowed in Austin.

The 2017 version of King Crimson is a brilliantly arranged, expertly played powerhouse with nearly five decades of repertoire to draw on and the ability to hold an audience in its spell for over three hours. An octet with a three-drummer frontline, bandleader Robert Fripp’s current conglomeration mixes friends old and new, including keyboardist Chris Gibson, subbing for an ailing Bill Rieflin and making his public debut in Austin. All the better to hit the refresh button on a set list heavy on the band’s Seventies repertoire.

Crimson configurations of the last 30 years have steadfastly ignored this material, save for the occasional bash through “Red” (absent last night) or “21st Century Schizoid Man.” For many attendees, an obscurity like the title track from 1971’s Islands might as well be new. Even if these songs aren’t unfamiliar, they sounded fresh in the hands of 21st century Crimson.

Tunes like “Fallen Angel,” originally recorded as a threepiece, and “Easy Money,” originally done as a quintet, throw new shapes backed by three drummers and riffs made thick with guitars and saxophones. The band lifted a track from nearly every album, from 1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon to 1982’s Beat to 2003’s The Power to Believe. Crimson even played four of the five songs on its 1969 debut, including the rarely aired “Moonchild.”

The band mixed in a few new tracks as well, including the cacophonous yet tuneful “Meltdown.” Few stones were left unturned, and the explorers always came back with treasure.

That many players in arrangements heavy on percussion should be a mess, but musicians this skilled and a leader with a watchful eye on his charges avoided uncontrolled chaos. The three drummers never tripped over one another, whether performing interlocking polyrhythms or simply sharing the same backbeat. Complementary styles from jazz-inflected genius Gavin Harrison, rock & roll basher and polymath Jeremy Stacey (doubling on keyboards), and electronics-augmented Austinite Pat Mastelotto made call-and-response drum solos a surprising highlight.

In the backline, Fripp and singer/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk traded lines with practiced ease, the latter often taking the solos and the former providing riffs as thick as a water main. That’s right: the heaviest guitar lines came from a guy who looked like a retired English professor.

Despite those axes of doom, the pair often stepped aside for veteran blower Mel Collins, whose jazz-soaked solos on multiple saxophones and flute often provided the most sizzling moments. Bassist Tony Levin, meanwhile, held the bottom tightly, while Jaksyzk sang his heart out with just the right dollop of British reserve.

With this many musicians under such tight control, the sheer power emanating from the stage was enough to enthrall the elated audience. It wasn’t volume that blew ’em down, either, but force. That many instruments digging into a single song at once can do it without damaging eardrums.

There’s nothing quite like Crimson in full flight, all of its musicians roaring at once, building a sonic wall as impressive in its aesthetic design as in its impenetrable weight. Ironically, the band played nothing from 1995’s double-trio masterpiece Thrak, even though that album’s tightly structured layers of noise seem to be the current band’s brightest guiding light.

And even when Fripp is tripping through his band’s nearly half-century of history, he’s not just finding creaky old artifacts and parading them around for appreciation. He’s resurrecting them, injecting unique ideas and vital energy by virtue of having a new gang of collaborators to put fresh, colorful stamps on them. It keeps the band constantly evolving, even (gasp) progressing.

This incredible show proved that few bands have aged as well as King Crimson.

Bass Concert Hall set list, 10.19.17

“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 1” (from Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, 1973)
“Pictures of a City” (In the Wake of Poseidon, 1970)
“Cirkus” (Lizard, 1970)
“Neurotica” (Beat, 1982)
“Fallen Angel” (Red, 1974)
“Epitaph” (In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969)
“Discipline” (Discipline, 1981)
“Islands” (Islands, 1971)
“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part II” (Larks’ Tongues in Aspic)

Intermission

“Hellhounds of Krim” (Live in Toronto, 2016)
“Easy Money” (Larks’ Tongues in Aspic)
“Indiscipline” (Discipline)
“The ConstruKction of Light” (The ConstruKction of Light, 2000)
“Moonchild” (In the Court of the Crimson King)
“The Court of the Crimson King” (In the Court of the Crimson King)
“Lizard” (Lizard)
“Meltdown” (Live in Toronto)
“Radical Action II” (Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, 2016)
“Level Five” (The Power to Believe, 2003)
“Starless” (Red)

Encore

“21st Century Schizoid Man” (In the Court of the Crimson King)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

King Crimson, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey, Bill Rieflin, Chris Gibson, Jakko Jakszyk

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