Apologies once more for the absence of any Beans last week, but my excuse is perfect. The dog ate my review. No? Well, OK, I tried. Anyway, this week I am turning once again to a major artist, to my mind, one of the towering giants of British experimental, underground and progressive music since 1969. Also, one of the bands who I turn to over and over again.
This is the fourth live set from the band since Robert Fripp reactivated the project in 2013 as a seven-piece lineup with three drummers/percussionists. Known as the “Seven-headed Beast”, this lineup toured extensively and released three live albums, “Live At The Orpheum“, “Live In Toronto” and “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind” (this last being a compilation of every track played live on the 2015 tour of Japan, Canada and France). This reconvention of The Mighty Crim clearly grew out of the 2011 Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins album “A Scarcity Of Miracles“, which is well worth listening to if you have never heard it.
In 2016, the lineup grew into a double quartet, with Bill Rieflin, who had been one of the original three drummers in the 2013 lineup but who had left for personal reasons, rejoining as an extra keyboards player. Unhappily, he is unable to perform with the band on the late 2017 American tour. Therefore, the current membership of the band is;
Robert Fripp – guitar, mellotron, keyboards, soundscapes
Mel Collins – saxophone, flute
Tony Levin – bass guitar, NS upright bass, Chapman Stick, funk fingers, synthesizers, backing vocals
Pat Mastelotto – percussion, acoustic and electronic drums
Gavin Harrison – main drums
Jakko Jakszyk – lead vocals, guitar, flute
Jeremy Stacey – drums, keyboards, backing vocals
Chris Gibson (replacing Bill Rieflin for the end of 2017) – keyboards, synthesizer, mellotron
Now, I am a massive fan, I absolutely adore King Crimson, so this piece isn’t really a review, but I do want to discuss this latest live album, because it is hugely significant. “Why is that?” you may ask. Well, dear reader, the reason it is significant is that the band is exploring King Crimson music that has rarely, if ever been played live before. This live album is, as the title suggests, one complete gig, rather than a compilation of various dates. Robert Fripp has said of the gig “If we are looking for a KC live (show); Chicago was exceptional”.
I’ve listened to this album a few times now, and I’ve compared it to both the “Live In Toronto” and “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind” sets and there is a clear sense that this is probably the strongest of the live sets released in this latest phase of the band’s existence. In fact, there are strong grounds for saying that this could be the best live set the band has ever released (I do own a shockingly large number of KC live albums, possibly even more than the large number of Grateful Dead live albums I own). The playing on this latest release is awesomely, jaw-droppingly good. I saw them in 2015 in Brighton and it was an incredible gig, possibly the best gig I’ve ever been to in terms of sheer musicality, inventiveness and virtuosity. Now, though I think that the band has matured and sounds even better. The players are more in tune with one another and it seems that they are able to stretch out and improvise with real confidence, and adventurous improvisation is something that has always been a hallmark of the live Crimson experience.
The track listing is;
Intro: Scape Bells
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One
The Lizard Suite:
a) Dawn Song
b) Last Skirmish
c) Prince Rupert’s Lament
Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two
Pictures of a City
The ConstruKction of Light
Radical Action II
21st Century Schizoid Man
Those of you who know the band’s back catalogue will recognise that there is music here from the third KC album “Lizard”, which Fripp himself never really though much of, well not until the release of the Steven Wilson 40th anniversary remix/remaster. This apparently gave Robert the chance to reconsider the music and he obviously found it worthy of being added to the live set for 2017.
However, the treatment of the “Lizard Suite” material is much more of a re-invention of the music than anything else that the current line-up plays, and I think that this is a clever move, because it makes it sound new, different and far darker than the original versions. You will note that the new suite consists only of the portion of the original entitled “The Battle of Glass Tears“, which I think is wise, because I doubt that anyone could adequately recreate Jon Anderson’s vocals on “Prince Rupert Awakes“. None of this music has ever been performed live before.
You will also note that the band covers “Heroes” as a tribute to the late David Bowie. Remember that Fripp played the guitar on the track originally. Anyway, here is “Heroes”, performed in Berlin, not the version from this live album.