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Following a drum improv, one more classic from “Larks Tongues In Aspic” was served up. “Easy Money” was the one song this evening where its early-70s origins were called upon in a new way to add a saucy sprinkling of dare I say it… funkiness to the proceedings that were absent from the album track template. There was just a hint of wah-wah guitar and some clavinet patches from the synths following its melodramatic intro but I certainly noticed it! The playful percussion that danced around the bass and synth interplay showed this band could have the lightest of touches. At the 2:30 point, the song template was abandoned for some solo improvs that say the vibe chilling out radically with Frips solo going deep into his mid-70s slow-growing, sustain rich tone he used to such an effect on side one of “Evening Star.” This man is not always about the face-meling solo as this torrid slow burner proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In contrast to his monolithic vibe, Mel Collins contributed the subtlest touches of frayed alto sax around the edges of Fripp’s solo, which was made in concert with the deep sea synth/Mellotron patches. The stuttering drums underpinned it with a jazzy propulsion while Jakszyk’s wordless vocals soared over it all like a kite flying at midnight. Then Fripp’s second solo erupted in a shower of sparks like a catherine wheel as the song returned to its main theme for another pass. Then they took it home, complete with a mocking laughing bag sample just like the album rendition. A big difference was the guitar loop submotif that Fripp faded the song out on. Subtly echoing the similar loop at the end of Bowie’s “It’s No Game Pt. 1.”
We next got what’s being called on set lists as the “Lizard Suite.” It’s really “The Battle Of Glass Tears” or movement three of side two of “Lizard.” It began with the vocal segment, “Dawn Song” which almost has a Gershwin feel to it with Mel Collins playing his alto sax for a jazzy, clarinet feel. Just some piano additionally complemented Jakszyk’s plaintive vocal. From there it moved to the oppressive “Last Skirmish” which then set a musical battle on a field where Mellotrons and war drums engaged in a fatal dance. The swinging synth leads sounded here like a roomful of saxes swaggering on the battlefield as Mel Collins added a nimble flute counterpoint to the increasingly complex drumming. As it heated up he broke out the baritone sax as the mid point was reached for a wailing solo from Jakzsyk on guitar.
I have had this portion of the song playing in a loop in mu brain for much of the week prior to the show and it’s thrilling to actually be hearing what amounts to the crucial half of “Lizard” with this hot band taking it to the stage. But things only got more impressive as the final sub-movement, “Prince Rupert’s Lament” got underway with Fripp giving the finest solo I have ever heard from him. As the frantic heat of “Last Skirmish” dissipated abruptly, the three drummers performed an elegiac war drum beat on their kettle drums in unison as Fripp soloed high above the desolation like an avenging raven of destruction. His tone here was pulling grief from the air like black, dried rose petals falling through his fingers as his lamentation was profound and so darkly beautiful. I’ve always loved side two of “Lizard” even though side one was my absolute favorite. It was here that they managed to invest their Prog standard with the swing of jazz to arrive at a more unique platform and it was the main reason why I loved this album so much. I have never loved this music more than I did that night in concert.
This deep into the show they pulled out some of the new material they had been writing since going on the road three years earlier. The songs have not yet been given a studio recording, but at this stage of the game, it may be that King Crimson only releases live music. “Meltdown” was a nimble vocal number with excellent lyrics that definitely had the feel of modern King Crimson. It would have felt at home on any album after 1980 as the interlocking, dual guitar “industrial gamelan” approach the band have perfected over the years served it well. Of course, it was written for this band, so there was plenty of room for Mr. Collins to add some thick, creamy saxophone to this number.
It followed seamlessly with “Radical Action II,” a driving instrumental that would have felt right at home on the “Power To Believe” album. It actually seemed of a piece with that album’s superb “Level Five,” a.k.a. “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Pt. V.” When “Radical Action II” seamlessly segued into “Level Five” that showed the the band were in 100% agreement with my thoughts.
The vertiginous, drum-laden intro plateaued out into Fripp’s first solo; a rapidly free-falling descent via his loping guitar lines. Then the percussive movement touched on elements of techno as tuned but random white noise patches plunged the song into lurching chaos. Then Fripp began to shred out his second solo with vicious ferocity; pacing his turns with more runs of percussion in a give and take that touched on elements of techno. My friend Tom then turned to me and asked “what is that?”
“Level Five,” I answered knowingly. Apparently Tom had not heard “The Power To Believe,” where this was one of the highlights. The drums continued to pummel while Fripp pulled up into an ascending solo of studied assurance. Then Collins added a new, high-pressure tenor sax solo that continued the ascent of energy up to levels of frenzy. It had been thrilling hearing this player find plenty of accommodation for his powerful, accomplished solos that broadened the scope of every song he played on. Fortunately for us, he soloed on everything. As he blew the top off of the hall, the accumulated thrust of the rhythm section coming together as one for a series of hammering sonic blows was cataclysmically climactic. Then the original guitar theme reinstated to ebb the energy levels downward for the coda. I had seen “Level Five” performed in 2003 but it had nothing on the scope and drama of this evening’s stunning performance.
Next: …Apocalypse Now