Latest King Crimson

Finally a post about music!

I wanted to put a few words together regarding my thoughts on the new King Crimson line up that started touring in 2014, the gigantic septet (with 3 drummers!) of incredible individuals playing incredible music. This will be the opinion of only one man but I think there is a lot to say about the music, the line-up, the new musicians and the old ones. There seems to be so much adulation just because KC is playing again. I’d like to go a bit deeper and talk about what works and what doesn’t… which I’m sure fans will be talking about for decades! My comments will mainly be based on the recent release Live in Toronto, though I did see them play in Seattle, their last date in 2014.

First, right off the bat.. King Crimson is playing again and it might be the last line-up. So there’s a lot to be happy about! After all this band has been going for over 45 years and there’s a wealth of music and ground breaking music at that in their catalog. This is the first line up that actually looks back at the whole catalog from 1969 to 2003’s The Power To Believe. No other line-ups before looked at the whole history of the band and only picked a few pieces from the previous albums and moved forward in new and bold territories. This line-up doesn’t do that… quite yet.

In this live release, which is in my opinion the first release of this band, the live at the Orpheum being only 40 minutes long with some strange snippets of new material and a volume problem that is inexplicable, 4 songs are from the 1969 line-up, 2 from the Islands band, 4 songs are from the much loved (as far as I can tell) 73-74 line-up, one is from the 90’s double trio, 2 from the 2000’s line up, which is my personal favorite. And there are 4 new pieces to enjoy and deconstruct. So that’s quite a wide range of music to cover and various styles to mesh together into one seeming less whole.

Considering how many members King Crimson has had, it is incredible to hear how at ease Jakko is vocally. I was concerned before first hearing the band in Seattle as I really didn’t like the ProjeKct “A Scarcity of Miracles”, finding it too new age and soft jazzy. But I personally think he nails every single song as well as the original singers. It would be great to hear him on an Elephant Talk or a Dinosaur or a Matte Kudasai… but alas those were penned by Belew and as the truncation of The ConstruKction of Light right before the lyrics are supposed to start, shows us, I don’t think this line up will be able to play those songs with lyrics. I will not say much about his guitar playing as he seems to be mixed a bit lower in the left channel and competes with quite a few other instruments. He of course is at ease with those parts too and it is incredible that he learned so much material and even gets the interlocking guitars going!

Tony on bass is also incredible as I had no doubt he would be! With the exception of VROOOM, he wrote none of those bass lines and had to learn them (Gunn’s baselines are especially hard!) and as always he shines, making them his own but also sticking to what the originals were. The bass is just amazing on this recording. Again not too surprised here, knowing the man behind the bass! The highlight!

Robert in those recordings is himself. Nothing to declare for the moment except that I was surprised to hear his sounds on the new pieces. A bit more old school than ground breaking. Mel is an excellent sax and flute player and it’s great to hear some winds back in a Crimson line up especially his baritone. I’m not huge on the few blues leanings here and there but otherwise very wise choices on where to play and where not to. Much better than what I can remember from the Seattle show I attended. I would’ve liked to hear maybe some effects on his instruments (a la Guillaume Peret or early Julien Lourau) but that’s me. I did not like the funky twist on the beginning of VROOOM. If this is a one off tongue in cheek version than that’s very funny but if it’s played every night like that, I’m not so sure. It definitely doesn’t have the vibe of the original.

And we get to the 3 drummers… I’ll look at them as one musician and not just as drummers but percussionists as well. They are amazing players and I can hear sometimes the potential of the 3 drummers. I can’t really distinguish who is playing (it’s not a bad thing) and will assume that Pat is in the left channel and Gavin in the right just like on stage (and as his solo on 21st CSM would suggest). I can’t really hear Bill R… though it might be him playing when there’s only one drum. Or he plays more keyboards than I can remember. Most of the time though I only hear 2 drummers, albeit it doesn’t feel as adventurous as Bill B and Pat were together in the double trio (listen to the 5.1 mix from the Thrak box set!!) Granted they had mostly new material to work with and they had right away decided against the Allman Brothers type of drumming, and play against each other rather than in tandem. I hear a bit more of an Allman Brothers type drumming here. But I believe in this 3 drummers thing and can envision the potential. I do wish them luck in getting it really working.

So lots of good things with this 7 heads line up. Some things are working remarkably well and others I think it’s just a matter of time. Now regarding the set list and the songs! On the live in Toronto, the band starts jelling on track 5, Radical Action. The previous tracks are good but it seems that they are still battling the usual sound issues, levels change, etc. I’m actually surprised to see LTIA 1 as an opener as the first song of a concert is always a struggle as everyone is trying to get their levels right. It’s good that they start jelling right for the 3 new pieces! I feel that the band really shines on the older tracks. Epitaph, Easy Money, Sailor’s Tale and The Court of the Crimson King are a treat to have here with excellent sound quality and the arrangements, including the 3 drummers, work very well. The 3 pieces from the 90’s and 2000’s on the other hand don’t work very well. They lack the heaviness of the original. That quartet from the 2000 was very heavy and I think it is difficult to get to that with so many moving parts. I’m not saying that this band can’t play heavy; 21st CSM is a perfect example of the band being heavy though I wish the middle section wasn’t a drum solo but more of those fast runs from the original. Or a drum trio!

I’ll admit that we all have expectations. I had never seen the band live before this incarnation but I have probably everything that has been released legally. I did not expect to ever be able to see KC live as I discovered them in the mid 90s and they never played close to where I lived. And suggestions from people close to the band didn’t seem very hopeful but when it was announced, of course expectation was at the rendez-vous. So as mentioned at the beginning, this is only one man’s opinion. I wasn’t overwhelmed when I first saw them live. This live album is raising that feeling a bit. But I can’t wait to hear the new material. After all that has always been what a new KC line up meant: a new direction, adventurous music, almost like a fresh start. And this might be the ultimate incarnation as it might be the last rodeo of the Crimson King.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *