King Crimson

June 21, 2017
Greek Theatre
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry

As part of their 17-show “Radical Action Tour 2017,” King Crimson made a stop at the Greek Theatre for what can only be succinctly described as nearly three hours of absolute musical bliss — subtle and pastoral on one hand, a cacophony of sonic thrusts on the other.

Since reforming in 2014, Crimson has been touring off and on with three drummers on the frontline. More recently, they have made some minor adjustments, retaining three drummers — Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and newest member Jeremy Stacey — while the previous third drummer Bill Reiflin has switched to keyboards, and joins guitarist Robert Fripp, keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk, bassist Tony Levin and saxophonist Mel Collins on a raised platform behind the drummers. Tonight, the eight-piece band was scheduled for two sets, and the audience was more than primed to soak in every single delicious note.

Adhering to the strict “no photos” policy, clearly reinforced by the large signs on the stage, fans had to restrain their urge to capture at least one savory moment from the night. To the band’s credit, it was announced that once Tony Levin pulled out his camera to take a crowd shot, everyone else could pull our their phones and shoot away. Funny enough, it was Robert Fripp, a man I once saw scold a fan for taking his picture at a Crimson show in 2004, taking more crowd shots than anyone. And this was all after the band was done playing.

But I digress. The signs were eventually removed and a "hot date" with King Crimson, stressing everyone to use their "eyes to viddy" and "ears to record," was underway as the band came out to ominous tones and internal chatter. They prepared to unleash a mix of the morose with flights of fancy, and the idea of taking their photo was the least of my worries. There was simply too much to take in — more than any camera could capture. It mostly had to do with the drums — that’s where the real pulse of the music comes from.

Watching three drummers play off each other is, in some ways, almost like watching a tennis match. Each man played a part of the whole, primarily Mastelotto and Harrison when Stacey was backing Reiflin on keys (wrap your ears around that one). You find your head moving from left to right for fear of missing a beat. This flavor of syncopated interplay was everywhere, but became more prominent during the latter part of the show when they swept through “The ConstruKction of Light,” and then broke out newer pieces like “Meltdown” and “Radical Action II” before segueing into the instrumental “Level Five.”

For the most part, the show centered on material from the first five years of the band’s existence — 1969 through 1974. Over this time, Fripp took the music in various directions with numerous players, including three different singers. For longtime Crimheads, this really is where things became fiercely inviting. Seeing and hearing “Pictures Of A City” from 1970’s In The Wake Of Poseidon was most certainly an appropriate way to get everyone in the mood, with Fripp and Collins pushing the riff, and Jakszyk delivering the verses with grit and gusto. This is classic Crimson from every angle.

Other nuggets like “Red” and “Larks' Tongues In Aspic” have been tossed around in various forms for years, and seeing Crimson burn through those was no less compulsory. Digging a little deeper, and “Cirkus” and “Lizard (The Battle of Glass Tears)” two cuts from Lizard, the third album, made the cut for the unsuspecting Greek audience. “The Letters” from Islands was just as mesmerizing, elegantly soothing, powerfully eloquent and completely bonkers as Collins blasted his tenor sax like a man with something to prove. The band followed suit and all hell broke loose. There was never a lull in the entire presentation. Be it Fripp’s minor seconds or heavy vibrato; Levin bowing a bass or wielding a Chapman Stick; Jakszyk countering and slicing leads on his custom-built P24 21st Century Schizoid Man guitar or altering the melody on “Indiscipline" — it was all disruptive frosting on a percussive foundation, smoothed out and given wings by the suave, angelic meanderings of Reiflin’s Mellotron, alongside Collins’ gleaming sax and flute work.

Without anyone saying a word, “Easy Money” and “Starless’ both served as tributes to John Wetton, while the encore of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” recently released as part of a five-song EP, was a little more obvious (Fripp played the guitar line on the original). Which isn’t to say “In The Court Of The Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man,” were or were not a tip of the hat to Greg Lake. The history of Robert Fripp and King Crimson is a confounding spectral that defies explanation beyond the grand scale of the music itself. Somehow, classic and over-arching with a fresh and quirky sheen. Such is the curse that haunts King Crimson, coagulating with originality and intensity, continually tweaked and reconfigured to the sanctimonious reckoning of a carbon copy world. Long live the King!

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