Saturday, 10 November 2018


For 50 years King Crimson have been driven by the singular vision of Robert Fripp. From the early days of Prog Rock trailblazers through the Post-Punk years to their late period of experimental music innovators going toe to toe with the heaviest “Industrial” bands, King Crimson have always been ahead of the curve but never over staying their welcome with Fripp regularly disbanding and reforming KC with subtle line-up changes totally in sync with the musical direction he wants to take next. The current incarnation of King Crimson is a “road” band built for touring with eight master musicians on stage having the depth and scope to dip into any part of the band’s extensive history………….however unlike many of the “classic rock” bands still touring, this is not merely an exercise in cheap nostalgia as King Crimson are still a thrilling live experience with this line up of the band being an absolute monster with three drummers, still cutting edge with the ability to surpass any preconceived expectations you may have had. Seasoned session players and incredible technicians, Robert Fripp has assembled a band that includes long time member drummer/percusionist Pat Mastelotto, former Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey (who also contributes understated piano to the sonic maelstrom) combining to form a formidable interlocking percussion ensemble that skillfully navigate Crimson’s complex song structures. Stacey’s last gig was with Noel Gallagher’s plodding Dad Rock outfit High Flying Birds…… must have been……erm……easy money compared to playing with KC. The rest of the band includes Mel Collins, who originally played with King Crimson in the early 70s, with an array of saxes and flute that adds an extra layer of texture, from the mid 80s line up Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, former Swans, Ministry and R.E.M collaborator Bill Rieflin sat behind keyboards/Mellotron and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk also handling vocal duties.………it’s a astounding line-up of players and possibly the best version of King Crimson ever. This is not a band that is on one final trek around the concert halls, but one that is breathing new life into Crimson’s back catalogue, reworking and reinventing classic tunes while also including new and unrecorded material    

Suited and booted, the band take stage at the Birmingham Symphony Hall bathed in pure white light with Mastelotto, Harrison and Stacey taking their places behind drum kits at the front of the stage and the rest of the band on a raised platform behind the drums with Fripp taking his customary seat to right behind a Mellotron and a massive FX rack. The current King Crimson two part live set is about 20 minute shy of the 3 hour mark, heavy on the fan pleasing early 70s Prog Rock period but also visiting the later years taking in pastoral Prog/Psych to the sheet metal screech of Industrial Rock and everywhere in between. Opening with the percussive riffing of ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part 1)’, King Crimson take us on a epic journey of complex musical passages played at breakneck speed in a flurry of arms and fingers, Jazz improvisations, drum workouts and gorgeous sweeping Mellotrons. Because they can, Crimson tweak their set every night picking from a pool of songs and changing the running order to keep things interesting………..the Birmingham show had a first half stacked with “oldies” including ‘One More Red Nightmare’, a massive 20 minute chunk of Lizard, a selection from their legendary debut album before closing with a beautiful version of the title track from Islands with the second set fast and furious showcasing the heavier side of KC before ending with a majestic ‘Starless’ with the stage lit in fiery crimson, the only lighting change of the night. Although King Crimson’s newer material is brilliant, it’s the classic 70s stuff that a nearly full hall go nuts for………….the return of Mel Collins means that for the first time since the 70s King Crimson have a sax player in the band and now have the musical scope to explore the tunes from their early years. Not many fans would nave ever thought they would get to hear nearly half of Lizard played live, let alone the sublime ‘Islands’. With a expanded line up, the songs from In The Court Of The Crimson King are played in their full pomp with stunning Mellotron passages, Collins replicating Ian McDonald’s flute and sax parts and Jakszyk being an able replacement for the late Greg Lake. Following a charged ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (Part 2)’ a exquisite version of ‘Moonchild’ rolls back the years to the summer 1969 eventually merging, like on the record, into the symphonic splendor of the debut album title track. Although King Crimson’s early work was outstanding, some of the songs from the first four albums can be seriously dated and hamstrung by Pete Sinfield’s terrible Sixth Form poetry………an appalling pretentious lyricist, Sinfield is responsible for the worst Crimson lyrics ever, however baring Sinfield’s crappy words, the tunes from In The Court are stunning with ‘Epitaph’ performed during the second set with ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ naturally saved for the encore. If the first part of the show was a crowd pleasing blast from the past, the second half saw KC at the top of there game running through a selection of their later material including ‘Discipline’, ‘Neurotica’ and ‘Meltdown’ along with a reworking of ‘Easy Money’ from the Lark’ Tongues LP. Transcending genres, Robert Fripp has for the last 50 years guided King Crimson down its own idiosyncratic path, occasionally meeting the mainstream before fracturing off into alternative directions and the Birmingham show was a celebration of this with 3 hours of quite brilliant music flying by. No doubt the best gig we have been to for quite a while. It was no means cheap but worth every penny…………don’t waste your money on stuff like Camel or one of the versions of Yes living in the past. but save up and go to see King Crimson still pushing the envelope when they hit your town.