I had been looking forward to this show since the Summer of 2013, when Robert Fripp announced that his retirement from music was over and a new seven man King Crimson lineup with a three drummer frontline was going to happen. From that moment on, I awaited the announcement of tour dates. It took another year before a handful of US dates in 2014 manifested, but there was nothing nearby. 2015, then 2016 came and went with more dates around the world happening, but nothing that could be described as “local.” Meanwhile, this incarnation of King Crimson came dangerously close to surpassing the lifespan of all the previous incarnations of the band. Then, it did just that.
As year four of the “seven headed beast” had them gaining an extra head this year for an octet lineup, I could not help but to scan the set lists posted at bassist Tony Levin’s website on his long running [21+ years] road diary. The setlists were astonishing as they showed for the first time since I was aware of King Crimson [39 years, for the record] that KC were for the first time ever playing songs from across the entire history of the band. When KC unexpectedly reformed in their 1981 incarnation, any dipping into past repertoire was relegated strictly to the title cut of “Red” or the dramatic “Larks Tongues In Aspic Part II” in my experience. And the last time that I had seen them at the sold out Orange Peel club in Asheville in 2003, only “VROOM” from 1994 was the sole track played that was not from their last two albums, “The ConstruKction Of Light”  and “The Power To Believe” .
The band had an extremely diverse back catalogue ranging from the Prog-defining opus “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” which set the stage for their first three albums, to the most stable incarnation [’73-’74] that saw the band move far away from their Mellotron® era with a spiky jazz/metal/proto-world approach that was without precedent at the time. In-between was the awkward transition-to-nowhere album “Islands,” which thankfully, the band reacted against in the strongest way possible for their ’73 classic “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic.” But for as long as the band were active in the 80s, and then in the 90s/00s, all of this material had been consigned to the dustbin of Crimson history. In other words, for as long as I have had the possibility of seeing King Crimson, I have had zero chance of hearing material from the band’s first decade. Each time I held out the hope that I might hear the earth-scorching free-jazz/metal hybrid “21st Century Schizoid Man,” my favorite KC number [most of the time] to no avail. This was now no longer the case.
I was most excited by the appearance of saxophone/flautist Mel Collins in the lineup. Mel had contributed mightily to “Lizard,” the third KC album and my favorite of the first three. I loved the jazz DNA it proudly wore on its sleeve. Also adding to the jazz under current of the “Lizard” album was the appearance of jazz pianist Keith Tippett on piano. I would bet a thousand dollars that Bowie had heard the results, particularly on the “Catfood” single that had proceeded the “In The Wake Of Poseidon” album, and that had driven his decision to enlist Mike Garson in his employ two years hence. If you’ve not heard “Catfood,” it will astound as I think it is the missing link between “Aladdin Sane” and the post-Roxy Eno sound of “Here Comes The Warm Jets/Taking Tiger Mountain [By Strategy].” Several years prior to any of that. So one year after detonating the Prog explosion, King Crimson were already laying tracks for the Post-Punk future.
When the Fall tour dates were announced this Summer, I jumped on two seats right up front at the Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, with one going to my friend Tom, who in spite of being a KC fan of looooooong standing, had never had the pleasure. Then it was a matter of waiting patiently. Not normally a problem as I am patient to a fault. Really…but not this time. October 26th could not arrive soon enough. By the time the show was looming two weeks ahead, Tom had managed to buy the seat adjacent to us in the second row for his wife, Elisa. So this would not be a “boys night out.” Then, a week before the show, my wife relented, considering that though she had seen Crimson in 1995 and had found it a cage-rattling experience not to her complete liking, this would be perhaps the last chance to see Fripp [we’d also seen his Asheville Soundscapes show in 2006] and certainly the band would be very different this outing. We managed to snag her a Mezzanine seat and it had become a family affair. Then adding to the anticipation, I received a PPM contact form email from PPM commenter James Pagan and he revealed he and his wife would be sitting right behind us, making a meetup inevitable!
It was shaping up to be a major event as we made our way from dinner to the venue. We wanted to arrive at least an hour early to buy the all-important merch early on. On the Trouser Press Message Board, prime mover Michael Toland had revealed that Austinites were crowding the merch table with long lines before the show. I knew there would be things there I wanted. I planned on buying the “Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind” limited tour box. This was three CDs of live [without audience] material by this amazing band, with a mix of classic and even new material. The common version came with 3xCDs and a Blu-Ray disc but I won’t go there. I don’t plan on ever going “HD.” This made getting the “tour edition” with the Blu-Ray material also included on two DVDs and easily available at their merch table the first thing to get. The open market priced this at $66 and up. Mr. Toland reported the box from the artist was only $50.
Just four months earlier, Crimson, who record every performance/rehearsal in high quality to absolutely make the bootleg market wither and die, had played a date in Chicago and the result had been deemed so exemplary, that a scheduled CD from their European tour of the prior year was bumped in order to get this one out as quickly as possible. It would be sold at the merch table this night, in advance of its general release. A must-have, obviously! There was also the “Heroes” EP calling to me as well as at least one t-shirt and the tour book. This would be a three-figure merch run for me; a first. But Mr. Toland had revealed that he was also free-spending a few nights earlier in Austin, and that the captain of the Merch table, Adrian, had thrown in the “Heroes” EP as a lagniappe when he purchased, and this also played out this night as well. A rare example of class in this fallen world. So the tour book got purchased, as well as t-shirt design #3 [Elements 2017]. Of course, once I picked up the “Elements 2017” tour box and saw that it contained a live in ’74 recording of “The Great Deceiver,” it too, was a must-buy. So I ended up spending more on merch than for my ticket, and the ticket was not what I considered inexpensive by any stretch. But my Crimson itch needed a considered scratch this night. Seeing The Adrian Belew Power Trio hit an array of modern Crimson classics last March had only increased my appetite for more of this level of experience, and what was on schedule this evening was most certainly whole realms more powerful.
CAVEAT: I should mention that all photos on this post-thread are from the hand of Levin himself [duly credited] since anyone who follows Fripp’s writings knows of his hatred of gig photography. At least Levin’s shots more than make up for what my sub-megapixel 4th-gen iPod Touch is capable of, even if I were to snap a few shots off. Which ultimately was allowed to happen, under proscribed circumstances, which were fair enough. But more on that tomorrow.
Next: … A Hot Date With King Crimson Looms