Friday, 4 September 2015

The Elements of King Crimson Tour: 2015


(1)  Aylesbury Waterside – August 31st 2015


Way back in the mid-eighties The Smiths, promoting their Meat is Murder album, undertook a short tour of Scotland.  I attended one of the dates, and I recently came across a blog entry from a bloke who with a couple of mates followed the band around the country attending all the gigs, and even tracking the band down to their hotel on one occasion.

When King Crimson (or, let’s be honest here, Robert Fripp) announced the band’s reformation and a UK tour, I briefly (very briefly) considered attending all the gigs on the tour.  And although reality kicked in fairly swiftly, I nevertheless decided to pitch up at as many as I could manage without unduly pissing off Wife too much.  This opening night of the tour, certainly, was a must see.

Given I had waited almost 40 years to experience KC in concert (Crimson with Belew was just not Crimson, in my view) there was always going to be an element of failure to live up to expectations.  And so, with depressing predictability, did it prove.

There were two problems really:  the triple drummer set-up and Robert Fripp – both the same problem really when I think about it, for I am sure the former would have been the brainchild of the latter.

Looking respectively not unlike a beefier Rolf Harris (prison food must be agreeing with him), Dad’s Army’s Lance-corporal Jones and former athlete Roger Black, the three percussionists (Pat Mastoletto, Bill Rieflin, Gavin Harrison) were spread out across the front of the stage like some protective wall keeping us from the “real” musicians.    

Having three drummers in a band (or at least in this band) just did not work, in my opinion.  The racket they made drowned out any subtlety, and indeed some of the less subtle aspects of the rest of the music.  There were three or four percussive interludes during the set, none of which, apart from the gamelan influenced Banshee Legs Bell Hassle added much to proceedings.  And Harrison’s drum solo in the midst of Schizoid Man just juddered the pacing of the performance to a halt.

Perhaps tellingly the highlight of the evening came with Sailor’s Tale wherein Mastoletto and Harrison sat idly by as Rieflin drove the tune along single-handedly, leaving Mel Collins and Fripp space to solo to great effect.  Indeed, this was pretty much the only occasion when Fripp did let rip.  The guitarist, from being a chap who has made a virtue out of being heard but not seen on stage, appears now to be taking the opposite tack.  For his guitar appeared buried way down in the mix for much of this evening, almost inaudible at times.  He even eschewed the opportunity to solo on Schizoid Man.  Why?  

Aware of the set lists the band had performed on their American tour last year, I had a fair notion of what was going to be on offer this evening.  But there were still a few pleasant surprises:  Easy Money, In the Court of the Crimson King and, most remarkably, Epitaph.   Indeed, this latter was met with almost stunned silence from the audience, this being the song’s first outing since 1969.

A few new compositions were presented, but none of them particularly shone, although perhaps like most Crimson music they require multiple exposures to truly appreciate.

The main set closed with what I would suggest has grown in stature over the last few decades to represent Crimson’s finest moment:  Starless.  Fripp’s opening guitar break here was as heartbreakingly sweet as ever, Jakko Jakszyk’s vocal was an acceptable imitation of John Wetton’s with the two-note guitar work shared by the two guitarists.  The tension built beautifully, but when the release arrived with the sax solo:  <Blah> it all fell flat, as Collins squeaked away on a soprano rather than giving us the howling alto (Ian MacDonald's?) from the original.  What a dreadfully dispiriting mess.

One final thing which irked (again Mr Fripp to blame, I assume) was that despite the fact us audience had just shelled out a not inconsiderable sum to help pay off the respective mortgages of these performers, there was no interaction at all.  Not a single word from any of them.  It felt almost as if we had grudgingly been allowed to witness a rehearsal.

Which I found not a little insulting, it pains me to say.




Robert Fripp

Mel Collins & Tony Levin



A roadie tidies up afterwards


Before the gig started we were all politely requested not to film any part of the show.
In deference to Mr Fripp who, despite my moans above, I am full of admiration for, I acquiesced.
Although there was nothing about taking a few pics before the show commenced, nor after its completion.

Aylesbury Setlist

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
One More Red Nightmare
Radical Action (to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Meltdown
Hell Hounds of Krim
Easy Money
The ConstruKCtion of Light
Epitaph
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
The Letters
Sailors Tale
Interlude
Red
Starless

Encore
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
In the Court of the Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man.





(2)  The Lowry, Manchester – September 11th 2015


The second stop on my personal King Crimson UK tour came at The Lowry in Manchester’s recently much-regenerated Salford Quays.  Although externally a bit of a hulking post-modern monstrosity, inside the place was sumptuously decorated, featuring two vertiginous balconies.


I could find no vantage point to get a decent pic of The Lowry, so chose to snap the view across the water towards the Imperial War Museum North.  Near this spot I encountered the KC tour bus - some large faintly sinister looking black thing sporting Austrian number plates.  But choosing to snap this would have appeared to be crossing some OCD line, I was not quite prepared to do.

Although the running order in the middle of the gig had been given a bit of a shuffle, the actual set was much as before, with Red and Suitable Grounds for the Blues being dropped to make way for Level Five from the Power to Believe album.

Whether the acoustics in the place made a difference, or (perhaps more likely) I approached this gig without the baggage of 40 years of expectation, I don’t know, but I enjoyed this one far more than the Aylesbury performance.  The audience helped, for this was certainly a far more demonstrative and appreciative bunch than at Aylesbury, where there appeared a slight atmosphere of “Go on and entertain us” present.  There was much reciprocal waving and smiling by the band members both before and after the set....but still no verbal communication. 

Also the mix was much improved:  the drums appeared to have been toned down a touch, whilst Fripp's guitar (if still not as prominent as I would have liked) was well to the fore.  And the man even permitted himself a (very) brief Schizoid Man solo before passing the baton to Mel Collins.  The Starless climax was still a fiasco however, but did I discover I am a complete Crimson-nerd by noting whilst at Aylesbury Fripp began the two-note guitar passage before handing over to Jakko Jakszyk – here the roles were reversed.  I truly must get out more.

A word on Jakszyk - with Rieflin, one of only two new band member in this line-up – he really must have had his work cut out vocally speaking; having to replicate (or at least interpret) the work of not one but three former KC singers: Greg Lake, Boz Burrell and John Wetton. 

Which he generally succeeded in doing I am pleased to say; his phrasing on both One More Red Nightmare and Pictures of a City in particular was perfect.  The only area where he toiled was Epitaph – but given Lake’s performance here is generally regarded as one of his finest, Jakko was always on a bit of a hiding to nothing I feel.

But it was The Letters - Peter Sinfield’s oh-so polite tale of adultery, murder and suicide – which Jakszyk made his own, he bringing a pathos to the performance Burrell never quite achieved, and I even found myself singing the darned thing to myself driving away from the gig.

Manchester Setlist

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Radical Action (to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Meltdown
Hell Hounds of Krim
The ConstruKCtion of Light
Level Five
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Easy Money,
Epitaph
Interlude
The Letters
Sailors Tale
One More Red Nightmare
Starless

Encore
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
In the Court of the Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man.





(3)  Symphony Hall, Birmingham – September 14th 2015


And so to Birmingham

This was intended to be the second concert (along with Manchester, the previous Friday) as part of long weekend trip with Wife, during which I may also have succeeded in sneaking in a football match.  But mere days after purchasing the tickets, ominously thudding onto our hall carpet arrived a wedding invitation for the Saturday.  So what was supposed to have been a relaxing mini-break incorporating a brace of KC gigs, turned into a frantic weekend of me haring up and down the M6 - twice.  Alone, as Wife refused to countenance such nonsense.

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Symphony Hall, Birmingham





The Symphony Hall this evening had a fair few number of empty seats up in the various balconies – even with a pair of interlopers.  For, as I took my seat I noted a rapidly-becoming-more-heated exchange occurring in the row in front.  Apparently two blokes were accusing a couple of sitting in their seats.  The newcomers were just about to storm off to get a steward when it was pointed out they had somehow succeeded in gaining entry with tickets for the following evening's performance.  So they sheepishly slunk off to sit in two of the many vacant ones around me. 

All of which made me ponder more deeply the notice I had seen earlier at Aylesbury announcing that the band would play different sets at those venues where they were playing shows on consecutive nights.  A ploy to help drum-up (pun intended) business for slow second night sales, perhaps?


This evening’s set saw the, by now becoming routine, shuffle of the running order, with returns for both Red and Suitable Grounds for the Blues, with One More Red Nightmare and Interlude making way.

To my delight Fripp’s guitar was even more to the fore than at the earlier gigs – although that may have been in part due to my position in the balcony rather than down in the front few rows where I had previously found myself.

Highlights this evening were Pictures of a City (finally shaking off it’s tag as a watered-down Schizoid Man?), Easy Money and Sailor’s Tale – this last named inexorably sneaking closer and closer to the end of the set as the tour progresses.  Will it have replaced Starless as the set climax by the time we reach Edinburgh?

The band had made their usual "sweet request" not to film or record any of the performance.  But I felt a few pix between the main set ending and encore commencing would not count.  But I cannot help but feel the email from DGM's lawyers is in the post. 

Robert Fripp - Birmingham 2015

Bill Rieflin - Birmingham 2015

Levin, Rieflin and Jakszyk


Having seen the band on three occasions now, I felt suitably qualified to comment upon the new compositions they were peddling.  The instrumental Radical Action, although featuring some typically odd time signatures and chord progressions, actually relied upon a fairly basic riff by Fripp to propel it along, the business climaxing with some fine flute work by Collins.  Meltdown which immediately followed the above in all the sets, harked back to the early eighties version of the band with its chiming, intertwined double guitar parts, and the Belew-esque linguistic shenanigans.

Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row (great pun!) and The Hounds of Krim were both short bouts of tribal tubthumping by the three drummers, with the bizarrely titled Banshee Legs Bell Hassle a rather more sedate affair, clearly gamelan influenced.  I should rather liked to have heard more of this sort of stuff, as opposed to the two testosterone-fuelled pieces mentioned earlier.

Interlude was, well, just that: a brief couple of minutes of doodling by the four back-row musicians, at one point Jakszyk joining Collins to tootle away on the flute.

Which leaves Suitable Grounds for the Blues, which, if blues it was, certainly wasn’t of the 12 bar variety.  It was pleasant enough though, and once Collins began to give it laldy on the sax, it began to resemble something which may have even found a home on (whisper it) Earthbound.



Birmingham Setlist

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Red
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
Radical Action (to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Meltdown
The ConstruKCtion of Light
Level Five
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Pictures of a City
Epitaph
Hell Hounds of Krim
Easy Money
The Letters
Sailors Tale
Starless

Encore
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
In the Court of the Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man.



(4)  The Usher Hall, Edinburgh - September 17th 2015


And thus did my personal Elements of King Crimson tour conclude on home turf so to speak with what, I am pleased to relate, was by some way the most enjoyable of the four gigs I attended.  Perhaps it was the fact I had a gig-buddy on this one (although flying solo has never been an issue for me), or that the renowned Usher Hall acoustics really allowed the music to shine, or even the fact I was by now almost intimately acquainted with the new material.

What was certainly true is that this was the warmest and most appreciative KC audience I encountered - the old rock'n'roll adage is rue, I can attest:  UK audiences are more vociferous and receptive the farther north one travels.


Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The band played, to all intents and purposes the same set as I had witnessed at Birmingham a few days earlier, which meant that even with my scattergun approach to attending gigs I missed out on hearing Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two performed - but such is life.

My two prime grumps from the first gig remained as valid as ever though: the climax to Starless was still a shambles, and Mr Fripp's refusal to talk to us reeked of contrariness.  I am sure at least one of his colleagues would have suggested some interaction would not have gone amiss, but I can imagine the the outcome (rather in the manner of Arsene Wenger refusing to buy a striker as soon as anyone starts suggesting he should), being the good Mr. F simply digging his heels in further.

Red was simply stunning this evening - that riff, with which Fripp almost single-handedly invented grunge, setting the tone for the evening early on.  The ConstruKCtion of Light appeared to come alive in a manner it had singularly failed to do on other gigs, and Levin's work was (finally) crystal clear, he elevating both Sailor's Tale and Starless immeasurably.

Even the Gavin Harrison drum solo which I had mumped about earlier appeared apposite.  For after, at times looking rather bored with proceedings, he injected a rare sliver of humour into his showcase, and when a professional musician grins as wide as he did at the end of Schizoid Man, you can be sure the band felt they had hit the Sweet Spot (or whatever the musical equivalent is).

No wave from Fripp as he left the stage, but rather a supremely self-satisfied (but not smug) smile on his face.  And I did wonder, as he exited into the black curtains side stage, if we would ever see KC in Caledonia again.


Edonburgh Setlist

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Red
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
Radical Action (to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Meltdown
The ConstruKCtion of Light
Level Five
Hell Hounds of Krim
Pictures of a City
Epitaph
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Easy Money
The Letters
Sailors Tale
Starless

Encore
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
In the Court of the Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man.



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