King Crimson – Live at Center Stage

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One King Crimson to Rule Them All!  Or, so the thought occurred to me while enjoying their Tuesday performance in Atlanta.  Looking at the audience, it was clear that some who attended enjoyed KC during their early years.  I was a relative latecomer when I saw the mid-period band play in June, 1984, and I didn’t see them again until their 2003 Power to Believe tour.

Both of these concerts were undeniably good, the former generally “strange” as contrarian as it was to the current music trends, the latter focused on their 2000’s “industrial” work.  There’s a lot of history to their lineup changes, but suffice it to say that while I enjoyed Adrian Belew’s guitar, I found his voice, at best, curious or, at worst, distracting.

Currently, the band has eight members who are more than capable of playing music from any of their various periods and with a singer, Jakko Jaksyzk, who does justice to any of them.  Thus, One King Crimson…

This show was their second in Atlanta, well attended by people who had seen the show the evening prior.   I had read some of bassist Tony Levin’s road diaries over the years, and this was my first concert with the three drummer line-up.  Sound… interesting?  Well, then imagine putting all three drummers at the front of the stage.

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As one may expect, it was a percussion-heavy performance, but not one that lacked for visuals.  Actually, the remaining members were fairly static, so the drummers were the visual focus through much of the show.  My son pointed to “poly-rhythms;” I just absorbed three drummers mostly playing different things at once, fascinated not only by musicians who knew when to play but also when not to play.  A little reading finds that they practiced separately well before the full band began rehearsals for the tour.  This was not a surprise given the deftness of trading parts even as they all three played. 

Center Stage is a great venue, without a bad seat in the house.  However, there are worse seats.  We were next to the back row (Row L, hardly a far distance) in the amphitheater styled seating.  Those to our far right would be blocked from seeing Robert Fripp, the leader/guitarist mainstay since the band’s founding in 1968.  Likewise, those that paid for the pricier seats on the floor may have hardly seen anything beyond the front line of drums.  In the cheap seats, we had a clear view of all.

Worth mentioning, the sound was excellent.  Intermission comments from those around us indicated that the sound level was good the prior night but much better for this show.  No complaints here, except that Tony Levin’s bass/stick were difficult to decipher particularly during the first set.

And about that, yes, sets.  The last time I saw them, they played 12 songs and a three song encore.  This time around, there were nine songs in the first set, 10 in the second, plus a two song encore, encompassing about three hours.  This gave the songs ample room to stretch out, though just a “hello” to the audience would have been appreciated. 

Fripp did comment on their policy of no photos until the end of the show, which was enforced to several folks’ discontent (spotlight with a bonus of Fripp pointing to the offender).   Even those who activated their cell phones for messages were confronted by ushers.  That said, it was nice not be distracted by all the camera/phone screens, and this was an evening of music that required concentration by both the band and the audience.  That attention was most obvious in quieter sections, when not a word was heard from the crowd.

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Highlights.  As much as Robert Fripp was the draw, our vantage didn’t allow watching his hands on the frets, but that was okay – he was clearly heard, at times with blistering guitars and quite frequently on keyboards.   He has an evolved kit to shape his guitar so that were you not watching him, you might assume the notes were from a keyboard.  Time and again there was a beautiful handoff from guitar to Mel Collin’s brass that melded perfectly.

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And Collins stole the show.  Sax, flute, whatever – his was the extra dimension that was missing from the previous versions of the band I had seen.  After a particularly splendid solo following preceding hours of great play, the audience gave their approval to which Collins grinned and tugged his bowtie in minimalist appreciation. 

As for the drummers, I don’t know enough about the art to comment about the various styles, but visually, Gavin Harrison seems to inhabit his drums as opposed to “masterfully play,” “command” or other words I might put to it.  There’s a beauty in just the way he wields his drumsticks and owns the space. 

Lacking in the evening’s set list were two standouts played the night previous, “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic” and “One More Red Nightmare.”  That’s okay – we didn’t suffer, but I’d happily trade “Neurotica,” the misfit of the night, for just half of either one.  That said, “Islands” hadn’t been played on tour since 1971 – it’s too rich a catalogue for one night.

In any case, it was a phenomenal show.  They rarely play Atlanta, and I’ll probably have to travel to see them again (and go consecutive nights to maximize the opportunity).  And, per the set list below, what a finish to a show!  Draw the line where you like, but from the start of Set Two going forward… wow.


Set 1:
  • Hell Hounds of Krim - Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, 2016
  • Pictures of a City – In the Wake of Poseidon, 1970
  • Cirkus – Lizard, 1970
  • Neurotica – Beat, 1982
  • Lizard (Battle of Glass Tears, Dawn Song, Last Skirmish, Prince Rupert’s Lament) – Lizard, 1970
  • Epitaph - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
  • Meltdown – Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, 2016
  • Level Five – The Power to Believe, 2003
  • Islands – Islands, 1971
Set 2:
  • Drumson Outbreak of Wonderment, Joy & Bliss Arising - New
  • Discipline – Discipline, 1981
  • Fallen Angel – Red, 1975
  • The Letters – Islands, 1971
  • Indiscipline – Discipline, 1981
  • Easy Money – Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, 1973
  • Breathless – Exposure (Fripp Solo album), 1979
  • Moonchild - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
  • The Court of the Crimson King - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
Encore:
  • “Heroes” – David Bowie track on which Fripp originally played, 1977
  • Starless – Red, 1975


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