He stands there unsmiling, surveying the standing, cheering, and indeed roaring crowd through his cupped hands which are currently fashioned into the shape of binoculars, or maybe opera glasses. Very much like some 21st Century version of Mr Magoo made flesh, or, with that waistcoat, perhaps he’s more like Mr Toad.
Some among us may well ask why this Fripp fellow is considered worthy at all of a place in this hallowed pantheon of rock. Is he not only really just famous for eating a box of Heroes, while on holiday in Berlin, with Brian Eno and David Bowie?
But, hold that thought, for a mo! Let’s wind back two and a half hours, the room is darkening and what sounds like perhaps one of The Wurzels is politely asking us, over the PA, to turn off our amassed gadgetry, to sit back and enjoy the show. Hall lights dimmed, ‘they’ walk on stage as the last notes of Fripp’s quadrophonic Soundscape drift off, chasing each other, into the ether.
A recording of the orchestra ‘count-in’ to Islands is heard. ”One, two, three, two, two, three” and amid the tapping and tinkling of this slightly Gamelan rhythm (is Pat playing that wee particular bit on a ‘Hang’? will that allow me to make a lame gag, later on, about a ‘Hang’ solo? ) the audience around me gasp. Although it’s been well reported beforehand, King Crimson Mk VIII immediately open up the throttle, and let rip, on a remade/remodelled Larks Tongue in Aspic#1. When I say rip, I’ve listened to the album(s) at antisocial volume levels for years, I’ve also witnessed the ’74 band on serious manoeuvres upon this piece – however nothing ever sounded as beefy, raw and aggressive as tonight’s confection.
It’s jaw-droppingly wonderful and indeed, so much fun, I’m quite aware that I’m grinning like the village idiot (having now mixed my metaphors, I suppose that would actually have to be ‘a drop-jawed, grinning village idiot’).
They’ve not even finished the first tune and Levin’s already on his third instrument. Rieflin, meanwhile, not only drums, he tampers with samples, he dabbles in mellotronics (and yet all the time, despite all his deliberate musical distractions, something rather oddly keeps drawing me back to thinking about ‘Dial M for Murder’. It’s that new moustache! Is he deliberately going for the Dick Van Dyke look?)
I’ve mentioned the American contingent first, because it wasn’t until they were there walking/sitting/standing & playing in front of me that I suddenly realised that I hadn’t seen any of them in the flesh before. Despite TL holding a Crimson Membership card for over 35 years now, and playing in umpteen other bands in the meantime, we have never shared a roof, until tonight.
And as for P@ Mastelloto? I feel as if I’ve known him for so long he should have actually nodded to me when doing the walk-on. There he is sitting amongst a collection of hardware that would make any village ironmonger green with envy. The backline, (can there be anyone left on the planet that isn’t aware the drummers are at the front of the stage?) is, on stage right, Mel Collins, kicking up a storm on saxes and flutes. What a shame he didn’t duet with Jakko like they used to do in a previous band! A lot of the time, Mel’s sax sounds, to these ageing ears, as if it’s being processed through a Gibson Maestro. However, these days, it’s more than likely just an app on his cell phone. Can our Mel really be wearing the same suit that he had on in the early noughties with the Schizoid Band? He is THE big surprise of the evening. I know more than a few fan boys turned their noses up, when saxophones were reintroduced, however his playing, throughout the night, was an absolute joy.
Next to him is the workstation of the aforementioned Tony Levin. Resembling some sort of avuncular Nosferatu , Levin chose, on this occasion ,to eschew his famous Funk-Fingers. Shame!!! I’ve always wanted to see and hear them. He pulls amazing faces, shapes and summons some incredible bottom end tunes on his sizeable arsenal of instruments (Chapman Stick, upright bass, Fenders).
This is a man who thinks nothing of super-gluing three picks together for that BIGGER sound!
Next to Levin on Standard Guitar Tuning, and a striking looking six string PRS featuring the sleeve of ITCOTCK, is Jakko Jakszyk. Everyone else has loads of equipment, Jakko has a guitar and a mike…but what a voice!!!
Despite some iffy reviews elsewhere, I found Jakko to be an important contributor to the show and his singing didn’t jar with these ears at all . He sang the Wetton period very well and absolutely nailed the Greg Lake era songs too. And yet he remained his own man.
What a guitarist!
Stage left, we have Robert Fripp. A man so at ease with his art that apparently he listens to Radio 4 on headphones, throughout the show. How flash!
He had two guitars tonight, however I honestly can’t recall him using the second one for anything, other than to hang his jacket on. His effects rack, this evening, is easily the size of a mid-American fridge, and then some.
At the front, on our left, we have Mastellotto. Pat adds the filigree, the embroidery and indeed the icing on tonight’s Crimson percussion cake. He’s forever winding up things, shaking, stroking and banging various metallic shapes and cymbals. I’m fairly certain he even rolled some pasta during Red.
Centre stage is Bill Reiflin. Drummer Bill has a mischievous twinkle in his eye the whole evening, yes we were seated that close. Then far right, when looking at the stage, is Gavin Harrison whose body language and chops inform the viewer that he’s calling the shots tonight. The three drummers have quite different roles but gel magnificently. No overlaps or anything that could be deemed redundant. It’s a twelve limbed drumming monster!
15, 304 days had passed since I’d last seen and heard the band at The Glasgow Apollo (they never wrote, they didn’t call!). Tonight, we arrived at the venue and grabbed the opportunity to take some snaps of the drum kits. A strange crowd, are in the house. There are loads of foreigners. Germans, Dutch, French …goodness me, I even had occasion to speak to a Geordie in The Hanging Bat, a nearby craft ale hostelry that we chose to meet up in, pre-show . This chap had already seen two dates on the current tour and two on last year’s West Coast sortie. Portland and… Bejeezus, I don’t recall, the red mist of envy had already descended upon me, at that point. Meanwhile pal Kenny has sold his spare ticket to an oil worker outside the hall. He had only ever heard one thing by KC before – the 12″ Sleepless. His pal had told him to come along to the show and that he would like it. And he did, jeez, he bought half the merch stall on the way out!
It all flew in. Almost two and a half hours zipped past, in a blink.
And, indeed, blink was something I was very loathe to do, as there was so much going on and things to see on stage. Very difficult to explain that, to anyone who hasn’t seen this line up.
In a way, I can see slight similarities with the Zappa ‘88 band where he, FZ, revisited and revised old material, with a killer line-up of absolutely crack musicians. I’m not too sure it was such a good idea to have three ‘new’ pieces one after the other, because I can’t now recall which was which, except that one was very reminiscent of the material from ‘A Scarcity of Miracles’.
Then it was back to the land of the familiar and the wonderful Level Five.
The ghostly voice of Eric Morecambe (doing his ‘I’m playing all the right notes—but not necessarily in the right order‘ schtick with Andre Previn) is summoned up by drummer Bill, by way of a sample to introduce the piece.
Level Five sounded as if it had been dropped on-stage from a great height, before being splattered all over the Usher Hall.
Men this age shouldn’t be able to make music this mean!
The three drummers really made this piece their own, with some very primal/unison tom-tom work. An absolute treat to behold. At this point in the show, it would not have surprised me for our Robert to do his best Carl Denham impression, pulling on a heavy rope in order to remove the black stage backdrop and reveal to the, by now panicking and screaming, Embra audience the majesty of a be-shackled Kong!
After an instrumental version of The ConstruKCtion of Light (and all the better for it in my opinion) we were onto the home straight.
A flawless Epitaph was now getting an airing on this tour for the first time since the SIXTIES.
‘Sailors Tale’, my favourite always, snuck in stealthily with barely audible cymbal taps following Jakko’s tour de force ‘The Letters’. I expected this to be a disappointment – surmising that yon guitar sound could never, ever, be replicated but it was and the solo was as manically disturbed as ever.
Rieflin got the big mellotron ‘stabs’ sounding great!
So it came to ‘Starless’. With that distinctive melody, and then the stage lights slowly turning crimson – having been merely ‘white/natural’ for all the previous tunes -my eyes moistened more than just a tad. When it finished, I leapt out my seat, to a height that really amazed me, not to mention those on either side of me. Peter Parker would have been proud!
For the encore, In The Court of The Crimson King was executed flawlessly but somehow lacked the ‘Oomph!’, the ‘Welly’, call it what you like. This tour sees the band play the song for the first time since ‘71. However, I really felt there was something lacking about it, can’t put a finger on it. I think it might have been the Tron(s) being too far back in the mix or perhaps Michael Giles snare not being ‘there’ – but this was the only time in the show where I felt something wasn’t just absolutely fucking wonderful.
Quick gulp of air for audience and performers and an absolutely triumphant 21st Century Schizoid Man. Oh no, a drum solo. But what a drum solo!!!
Pal Ken had seen them a few nights earlier and was delighted that the construction/mood/style of both solos was completely different from each other. A masterclass from Gavin Harrison who was allowed to ‘showboat’ and on completion was rightly applauded by his percussive pals.
Gig of the year by a long chalk!
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part I),
Suitable Grounds For The Blues
Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)
The ConstruKction Of Light
Hell Hounds Of Krim
Pictures Of A City
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Starless Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row
Court Of The Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man