[continued from past post]
The next step from “Level Five” was the peak melancholy of “Starless” from “Red.” Though it was from 1974, it still featured Mel Collins on soprano sax as a session player. Tonight he was once more in the band. The opening theme was mournful and solemn on Mellotron as Fripp carried the guitar leads and Jakszyk carried the vocal melody through the opening four minutes, or the “7” edit” of the composition. Then the tension began to ramp up methodically as the long, drawn-out instrumental buildup began with Tony Levin’s bass riff skulking in the shadows. The lightest touch of polypercussion then dusted the music bed as the anxiety-inducing guitar theme slowly ramped up the tension for what seemed an interminable amount of time.
At the eight minute mark, the full blown band was laying into the chord progression that was still slowly unfurling, albeit with a large sonic heft behind it now. Then the guitars, drums, and bass began riffing an ascending melody that zig-zagged upward until a plateau was reached where the song erupted with Collins’ sax solo in full jazz mode. Then Fripp circled in for the kill with another of his “shower of sparks” solos that climaxed the song before it returned to the starting theme for its finale. Powerful stuff for certain, and it hewed fairly closely to the album’s template. At this point the band took their bows amid a standing ovation and briefly left the stage before returning for the encore.
The “wind session” noises heralded this, the ultimate King Crimson song that after decades of hoping for in vain, I was finally hearing this evening. The ultimate monster riff of “21st Century Schizoid Man” would be the second spine-tingling moment of the evening for me. This song was the alpha and omega of King Crimson. Everything else was a bonus, but if all they had ever written and recorded was this one, the band would still rightly be hailed as visionary creators. The alien-for-its-time mixture of industrial/metal/free jazz along with lyrics that carried all the moral force of the counter culture facing the atrocity of society that began to manifest by 1969, has not dated a whit. The horror-filled Shadow of humanity is, if anything, even more unhinged today, making the righteous outrage of this song even more needed in our time. As we face the terror of the 21st century on a daily basis, we can see schizoid men filling the halls of every business and governmental concern.
Just because it’s the ultimate King Crimson classic, that doesn’t mean that the eight headed monster isn’t willing to color outside the outlines with it. Unlike with the preceding “Starless,” the band take the opportunity to inject “Schizoid” with some serious, expansive soloing. Taking it to twice its nominal length this evening with some serious injection of improv by both Mel Collins, who gave us a ferocious sax solo after the “first movement” of the song and before the “Mirrors” segment. He was riffing away for several minutes to be followed by the drumline’s efforts afterward, but really, it was all about Gavin Harrison on this number. Pat Mastelotto and Jeremy Spencer quickly ceded the spotlight to Harrison who managed to travel far and wide of the mark with a stunning percussive excursion that lasted for almost four minutes as the energy levels of the song went from minute to thunderous and all points in between as the audience drank it all in; slack-jawed. At one point Mastelotto silently applauded his cohort while looking on with the rest of us.
Just when we thought the thread may have been lost for good, the tempo synched up with the remainder of the song with the ultra tight mass ensemble that was a hallmark of the “Mirrors” section of the song with frequent stops and starts on “the one” with no problems. The theme returned as Jakszyk spat out the final verse with unfettered bile and the song ended on a truly threatening, chaotic blast of uniform noise from all on stage. And it was over! Over three hours later and we’d just been given a masterclass in all aspects of King Crimson burnished to a brilliant gloss and charged with enough electricity to light up Chicago.
Next: …Conclusion [will be my epitaph]