Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 13]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Dazzle Ships | 1983 – 4

[continued from previous post]

When the needle hit this wax the opener, “Radio Prague,” abruptly let us know that we were not in Kansas anymore. The sort of musique concrète that had been tucked into the middle of side two of the previous album was now up front and in our faces right at the start. In our post-album era, beginning any album with less than the catchiest hook on offer… immediately, would be inconceivable. It was starkly bereft of any musical component played by the band; being entirely arranged from shortwave samples of the titular Radio Prague musical identity. It perfectly set the tone for the album with its eastern bloc propaganda feel and deliberately alienating stance.

The next song had been the first single released in advance of the album, though when confronted with the album, I had no idea of this at the time. The sampled typewriter in the intro in retrospect, seems like an inspiration from The Associates berserk “Kitchen Person” single from 1981, though the usage of typewriter here was far removed from the chaotic approach favored by Dundee’s finest. Here, the typewriter sound had been sampled into their Emulator and carefully arranged into a neat matrix of sound; echoing the precision of the subject matter of the song itself.

Winsome, nursery school keyboards ensued while the opening vocal salvo of the song featured an infectious multi-part harmony round-robin intro that seemed to embody the height of irony as it touted the benefits to come when genetic engineering would transform life on earth.

“Efficient.
Logical.
Effective…and Practical.
Using all Resources…to the best of Our Abilities.
Changing. Designing.
Adapting…our Mentality.
Improving Our Abilities…
For a Better Way Of Life!” – Genetic Engineering

McCluskey then sang of the lies that “all god’s creatures would inherit all our lands” with embittered passion while the clattering rhythm track featured sampled handclaps. Then the song’s coup de grace was delivered by a Texas Instruments Speak + Spell toy.  The song’s refrain was made on this toy, which children typed letters into and then got to hear the word they typed pronounced by Texas Instrument’s 4-bit voice synthesis chip. The words it “spoke” were like a new spin on Kraftwerk’s familiar vocoder effects, but these were truly machine generated voices from phonemes; not altered human speech. It said:

“Baby.
Mother,
Hospital.
Scissors.
Creature.
Judgement.
Butcher.
Engineer.” – “Genetic Engineering”

The effect of this over a music bed that sounded like a hyperkinetic nursery rhyme was ultimately chilling. OMD have gone on record that they were bullish on the idea of genetic engineering at the time they recorded the song, but the queasy ambiguity of it all insured that I, as their audience, never interpreted it as anything but a warning.

Next: …Real ABCs

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 12]

In 1983 OMD were a shoo-in for the cover of Smash Hits… but not for much longer

[…continued from this post]

So… we return to the OMD Rock G.P.A.® thread, abandoned over a month ago for a seemingly endless series of concert reviews, some travel, some illness, lunch hours cut to the bone to make up time spent off of the job, and lots of missed postings. It was not my intention to let the OMD thread languish this long, but it happened… and I’m none to proud of that, considering the place that OMD hold in my core collection. Which is to say, one of considerable importance. As 1982 continued, the band found themselves to have the top selling single in Germany with “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans].” No new material was released this year, but with 1981 being the most active year yet for the band, they were allowed some time to think out their next move.

By early 1983, I was fully into OMD and kept n eye open for imports and tidbits of information. I had bought “Architecture + Morality” on import as soon as it had been released, but I had not picked up any activity on a new album. It was a shock when friend and fellow OMD fan Tom came by my home one day with… a new OMD album he had picked up at Crunchy Armadillo Records, which at this time was our number one store. This floored me since it had completely come from out of the blue. After all, I had not gotten wind of any import releases, and typically, their US label [Epic Records] tended to drag their feet on releasing any OMD album; usually several months after the UK got a release.

By this time, a new OMD album was an event for us, with Tom puzzling me since he seemed to be  a little ambivalent about it. He said that quite different from their typical fare. I looked at the cover. It looked stunning, as befit it being a rare joint design effort from the studios of Malcolm Garrett as well as Peter Saville, their usual designer.

Hmm, That was unexpected… I saw that two of the B-sides from the “Joan Of Arc” singles added to the playlist of a dozen tracks. “Of All The Things We Made” from “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans]” was the last track and “The Romance Of The Telescope” from “Joan Of Arc” was the second song on side two. Why would the band include previously released B-sides on their new album? Of course, by that time, I was buying all of OMD’s singles on 12″ format, to get any B-sides [and remixes] in the best possible sound of the time. I had already heard these songs. Making B-sides into album tracks kind of seemed like cheating to me. That’s just now how the game was played back then. If you bought an import single, you got a non-LP B-side. It’s the law!

Looking more closely, I saw that there was song called “Genetic Engineering” and could hardly believe a band would write a song about such an exotic topic, but the group had already proven their science-geek credentials by this time, so I should have not been that surprised. Looking more closely,, the labels revealed that all of the songs had been written with a person called “J. Floyd?” Wha…?? Clearly, there were some big changes under the hood for this one, but I could not have known the full extent of them at the time.

OMD had been told by an ecstatic Virgin Records, “make ‘Architecture + Morality 2’ and you’ll be the next Pink Floyd!” Their Dindisc sub-label had folded in 1982 and they had been absorbed into the parent label, Virgin Records. Needless to say, this was probably exactly what Virgin Records should not have told their young, headstrong charges. Having pursued their muse with no regard to commercial concern to see their popularity peaking at geometric levels of growth, they resolved to take a least likely path from the summit of their success. And they resolved to get “political” which in 1983 was quickly becoming a lost motive in the nascent post-New Pop environment of the time.

Take another look at that Smash Hits cover with our heroes on it from March of 1983. OMD were the cover stars, but look at the upper left hand corner. Wham! were bursting forth from their cocoon and ready to infect pre-teen brains like nothing seen since the pre-punk era. And they had the OMDs of the world, artistic Post-Punk pioneers who had managed to sell a surprising amount of vinyl, in their sights.

Next: …Eno vs Kraftwerk

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King Crimson @ Duke Energy Center 10-26-17 [part 8]

King Crimson 2017: loooking backward yet moving forward

[continued from last post]

After seeing a performance of such talent and intensity the thought occurred that much of what made this concert exemplary was down to its ability to sift through the entire history of King Crimson and not just do it justice, but to actually redefine it, enhance it and take it to new heights that only these eight musicians could collectively achieve. This was eight brains and sixteen hands on the stage and none of them were slacking off.

It leaped past my three years of anticipation that began once I knew that Mel Collins was back in the band after 40+ years out of the loop. Mel was a big factor in why I like “Lizard” so much, but he was also on the “In The Wake Of Poseidon,” “Islands,” and even the “Red” albums. That evening, he was all over that material. He was revisiting songs he helped to define as well as [this was even better] adding sax and flute elements to songs which never had them to begin with. And every note he blew was tremendous. He either added melodic counterpoint to make the sound larger that you remembered it, or he took the lead in powerful solos that solidly had their feet planted in jazz territory. He simply made the music more thrilling for me in every way.

The three drummers had no difficulty in capturing the rhythmic brilliance of Michael Giles to start with. Fripp has long since opined that Giles was the finest drummer he has ever played with. Careful listening reveals a playful complexity to his work with a penchant for fills that came strikingly out of left field. The drummer frontline that the band has now is in a position to assimilate any style of drumming that the band ever had. The accomplished and complex attack of Giles, to the middle period where Bruford and Muir blazed new percussive trails into jazz improv territory, to the tech metal of the post-90s era of the band.

The drumline consisted of three brains playing rhythms which fused together as one for the purposes of each composition. They could play in unison for greater accumulated power, or split the percussive thread into smaller sub-threads, each of them adding detail and nuance that would be impossible for a single drummer to provide. For the most part, the way the drummers presented the catalog material ensured that one could never hear some of those old songs in quite the same way afterward. The band were performing on all new levels of accomplishment. The house sound was such that tiny details like Pat Mastelotto squeezing a dog toy at one point were as clear as a bell. Elsewhere, Mastelotto would pick up sheets of metal and add complexity and percussive texture to an already rich rhythm track; giving the music the scope that Jamie Muir had brought to “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic” yet extending it considerably due to the fact that there was a further extra drummer that even that lineup did not have.

That everyone played this well, was a given. It’s King Crimson, after all. One can only imagine heir marathon rehearsals, but where the story really got interesting was in the how and why of its amazingly well-considerd set lists. As someone who cut his King Crimson teeth on the 90s/00s lineups of the band, it was a given that outside of “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Pt. II” or “Red,” one was simply not going to ever hear material that predated the epoch defining “Discipline” album. According to a Robert Fripp diary posting from some years back, Adrian Belew was going to enter into a Nine Inch Nails tour and was otherwise engaged in several deep commitments. He said to Fripp, “if you ever thought about forming a King Crimson Lineup without me, now would be a good time.”

So this is what happened. Fripp got the vision of three drummers and built the lineup around that with the knowledge that Adrian Belew was spending the year or so in a heavy Nine Inch Nails commitment, except that Belew ended up not taking that tour, by which time the new King Crimson was already in the planning stages.  Fripp’s vision of the lineup to be was by necessity one where Belew would not be a part and he set out to make a Crimson very different to the post-1980 versions of the band That the hows and whys of why this King Crimson lineup would be the only one since the early 70s to perform material from its complete history, is largely reliant on Fripp’s dissatisfaction with what happened with King Crimson when its “double trio” lineup fractalized into oblivion in the ’96-’99 period.

In the liner notes to the band’s new “Live In Chicago” album, Fripp admits that he considers four eras of the band to be of critical interest. 1969, 1974, 1981, and the current era. He felt that at his age, he did not want to leave King Crimson on the terms that it had worked out for him ca. 2000-2008. He felt that whole of the band for that era was less than the sum of its parts and this seems to have nagged at him. As Fripp himself put it:

“Overall, my sense of KC 1999-2003 [two albums and several tours, two of which I caught], and 2007-2008 [only a small US 40th anniversary tour which I missed] was of dis-satisfaction. Something was not quite realized. This was not how I wished to let go of Crimson. So, in 2013, in a flash before my mind’s eye, a picture of the Seven Headed Beast and its onstage configuration presented itself [July 22nd, 2013].” – Robert Fripp

“My two primary aims in the re-formation on KC in 2013 were Redemption and Completion. Acts of Redemption took place during 2014, 2015, and 2016; at which point completion was realized. A completion is a new beginning and the eight piece KC of 2017 constitutes a new beginning in the process of King Crimson.” – Robert Fripp

This KC lineups throughout history seem to have been optimized for a particular brand of Crimson, which could vary wildly in its trails and qualities, from the orchestral Prog of the first two albums, to the Prog-jazz of album three, to the improv/metal explorations of the Wetton/Bruford Crim, and the interlocking Gamelan approach of the “Discipline” era. Some of these footprints of the band were so wildly divergent that it would have been impossible for some particular lineup to play the music of another; hence the abandonment of Crimson’s ’69-’74 canon [for the most part] post-1981. Maybe it’s a valedictory thought on Fripp’s part, but maybe there’s a reason why the last three years have given us a King Crimson large enough to play anything from its history for the first time ever, and to play it definitively well.

The set lists have seen material taken from almost every album and given new life by this Eight Headed Beast. In fact the only two “problems” that I had with this concert were that one of the two albums not touched for this concert program was “Starless + Bible Black,” one of my favorite Crimson albums. [“Thrak” was the other album snubbed by the setlist]. What I would have given to have heard this band tear into “Great Deceiver!” I am imagining Mel Collins on sax right now and I am levitating. I know for a fact that the band could have started that number “on the one” with no problems; part of its allure for me is its legendary cold opening where the listener was abruptly dropped into the center of a swirling jazz-metal vortex; already at full power. It’s an opening that one soon does not forget and while the album sounded like a judicious use of editing, this band had the chops to replicate that live. Then there’s “Fracture.” This band could just blow minds on that one.

The other slight downer was that their cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” had been played at most of the Summer 2017 dates but not so on the Fall ones I was seeing. My wife and I missed out on Robert Fripp playing one of his most iconic guitar lines for our waiting ears, but then again, so did most of the audiences on this leg of their tour. I almost feel churlish at registering any gripes because the power of this concert was such that it’s The One. It sits in the pole position of my favorite concert of all time, and I’ve seen some doozies that it effortlessly raced past. I have simply never heard music given such care and attention to feel and nuance as I had here. The three drummers made certain that the rhythmic complexity of it could span from accomplished to insanely accomplished as it needed to encompass that. The venue was superb. The sound was fully dynamic yet stopped well short of brutality. And there was Mel Collins on stage giving his all to every number to my continued astonishment and rapture. Several of Fripp’s solos will stick with me to the end. As much as I love his guitar playing, I can’t say that about the previous three King Crimson concerts I’ve seen; as thrilling as they were at the time.

This band is now re-writing history.  If you’ve an inclination to hear some seriously complex music that still manages to stimulate your brain stem as well as your cortex, then do not forego the chance if this band comes within striking distance. Fripp has indicated that this incarnation could last up to seven years and we’re halfway through the program now. There will undoubtedly be some tweaks along the way, but for the Crimson fan of any era, these concerts will be definitive statements of passion, adventure, and expertise that will re-wire your entire sense of this band and what they are capable of.

– 30 –

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King Crimson @ Duke Energy Center 10-26-17 [part 7]

The stunned Raleigh audience at concert’s end – yes, Ye Olde Monk is in there… somewhere… in theory ©2017 Tony Levin

[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]

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King Crimson @ Duke Energy Center 10-26-17 [part 6]

Tony Levin captures King Crimson after the encore ©2017 Tony Levin

[continued from previous post]

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

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King Crimson @ Duke Energy Center 10-26-17 [part 5]

King Crimson prepare to enter the stage ©2017 Tony Levin

[continued from previous post]
During a twenty minute intermission where I had joined my wife back in the Mezzanine section, we were glad that the merch tables were safely in the past. My wife had been getting ill in the days prior to the show and was considering going out to the car to rest, but their cover of “Heroes” which had been a staple of the Summer tour leg was a powerful reason for her to stay for the second set. They had a penchant for playing it during the encore. The notion of Fripp playing that one live was intoxicating. As the lights began to dim, I made my way back to my seat and conferred with my friends Elisa and Tom. Then, the band re-took to the stage and began playing what would be a very different take on “Indiscipline,” from my favorite King Crimson album, “Discipline.”

The normally slow buildup for this song before it erupted into its full multi-time signature glory was pushed to the brink in a way that only a version of King Crimson with three drummers could accomplish. They teased and coaxed an even slower buildup, which was now shot through with sibilant, percussive hisses of white noise pads [one of my favorite percussion gambits] as they extended the intro to nearly ludicrous levels of anticipation before without warning they erupted on the one into the full blown chaos of the song unfettered. Every musician, with Mel Collins blowing furious sax from a zero cold start was something my mind could barely begin to process. With twice the musicians than originally played it, they took many liberties of added rhythmic complexity. Fripp played some new, insane Django Reinhardt-like jazz runs completely counter to the raging beast of a bass line that this number sported.

Once the time came for vocalist Jakszyk to enter the song, he shocked by actually singing the lyrics; mirroring his melodious guitar lines for this song in a way diametrically opposed to the recitation original vocalist Adrian Belew gave it earlier. Fripps solos mutated from playful jazz lines to furious showers of sparks as the song sped forward to its conclusion after eight minutes; almost twice as long as the song was on album. Jakszyk threw another final curveball by singing the last lyric en Español.

“¡Me gusta!”

They next played a late period Crimson classic; the first movement of the title track to 2000’s “The ConstruKction Of Light.” This was the song that gave Tony Levin fits last summer in Red Bank, New Jersey when he waited for four beats instead of the proscribed six and threw the tune into time signature disarray. This one was an example of a band crafting extremely complex music that did not necessarily need to pin the listeners to a wall. The song’s gentle rolling complexity was further warmed by the presence of Mel Collins on saxophone and flute solos. It was fascinating to hear late period, highly technical Crimson cross pollinated with vibes from the band’s early history.

Next came a shocker. “Moonchild” was the ethereal ballad from their iconic debut album, but on the album it was three minutes of delicacy with nine minutes of improv bolted on to make their album long enough without resorting to cover tunes. For these ears, it was at least five minutes more of improv than the song merited and this was keeping in mind that the band were all in their early twenties when then did this. Much of it sounded like noodling. Tonight, the song was performed with perhaps four minutes of improv; this time by the veteran session master, 71 year old Tony Levin, who whipped out his standing bass and rose to the occasion along with Jeremy Stacy on keyboards with no difficulty.

Of course, when the last strains of “Moonchild” ebb, what else could follow but the heraldic tones of “In The Court Of The Crimson King?” As much as this band love to tweak their classic material, this was one instance where they definitely colored in the outlines. The Mellotrons were all in their places. Jakszyk effortlessly captured the boyish vocal tone of the late Greg Lake. Tony Levin’s backing vocals added choral depth to a song that demanded it. I could scarcely believe that I was actually hearing this song by King Crimson 60 feet away from me as it was perhaps the iconic song of the band which had been all but abandoned.

When I first saw the band in 1995, I laughed at the radio ads for the concert I attended in Orlando that the promoter used “In The Court Of The Crimson King” in, blatantly knowing that they would never play that one live in a million years. Well, maybe 22! The last time I can verify that they played it was in 1971 on the “Islands” tour! More importantly, the eight piece band truly did it justice this evening. No shortcuts needed to be made with 16 hands at the ready. The one shock to my ears was that when the song reached its climactic chord, it was actually ending then. The “Dance Of The Puppets” coda which followed with another two minutes was not played this evening.

Next: …Lizards and Lucre

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King Crimson @ Duke Energy Center 10-26-17 [part 4]

The set list for Raleigh ©2017 Tony Levin

[continued from previous post]

Following a brief drum improv, which during the course of the long concert served to act a palate cleansers between movements of the concert at large, we next heard a song from the one King Crimson studio album I do not own. I had bought a copy of “Islands” around 18 years ago only to come to the conclusion that it was not speaking to me at all. The only of their studio albums that I could say that about. Since this was a track that I did not recognize, ergo, it had to be from “Islands.” The song was a delicate pastoral ballad of tremolos and the clear, earnest vocals of Mr. Jakszyk. For the first 90 seconds at least, then the band erupted into life for several bars until Mel Collins took a lengthy solo on his baritone sax, which traveled down the jazz road, gradually becoming more and more distraught until Fripp’s shimmering peals of guitar edged Collins into full skronk territory. The song was “The Letters” and I certainly did not remember anything remotely like this.

At the song’s midpoint, the drumline had by that time joined Collins in free jazz territory. It was at this point that the thought had occurred to me that I maybe needed to give the “Islands” album another chance. If only to see how far they took it down a completely different path with the song dramatically expanded with Collins’ solo to almost twice its album length. After three minutes of frantic riffing from Collins, his tone began to subdue until the song rested in a moment of silence at the 6:30 point, prompting a round of applause before Jakszyk broke the spell with his melodramatic pronouncement of “…impaled on nails of ice!” to the full force of the entire band taking this unsettling version of “The Letters” to its conclusion. Collins then switched to flute to underscore the fact that the band had quickly dropped out, leaving Jakszyk alone in the spotlight to conclude the song as if it had been a suicide note all along.

In a fit of synchronicity, King Crimson [via DGMlive.com] have now made this Raleigh performance of”The Letters” available as a free download for one and all. Click Here and opt to “purchase show” and then the option to download the MP3 of it will manifest.

The next song could not have been more surprising, if only because it was not actually a King Crimson song. The next song was a deep cut from Robert Fripp’s debut solo album. “Breathless” from “Exposure!” This was a real treat for the inveterate Fripp fan who had never heard anything from this album live before. Any solo touring that Fripp had done from 1979-1981 featured only Frippertronic improvs or the League Of Gentlemen material. Incendiary material like “Breathless” had never been played live before…until now. The interlock between Fripp and Levin, who had reprised his session appearance on the song was as nerve-wrackiing and accomplished as the album version had been 38 years earlier.

Following that frenzied peak of “Breathless” another track from “Islands” got an airing. This time it was the delicate yet epic title ballad that featured a rare turn of Collins soothing our collective brows with a sweet and tender tenor sax solo that played delightful counterpoint to the plaintive vocals of Jakszyk that carried this soothing number. The exercise in contrasts that this band was capable of was never more concisely delineated than in the juxtaposition of the preceding “Breathless” and this lilting number. Again, I found myself wondering if I had actually heard the “Islands” album all those years earlier. I would definitely need to revisit a copy soon.

Finally, the first half of the set would see them playing a number that I was lucky enough to have heard only the first time I saw King Crimson in 1995. The screaming seagull sounds heralded my first serious goosebump moment of the concert this evening as the band began playing “Larks Tongues In Aspic Part II.” This was quite a number. It had been seared into my brain most powerfully on the video of King Crimson live in Japan from the 1984 tour, which I have on laserdisc. From that point on it was one of my go-to Crimson tracks. In the week before the concert I was listening to lots of King Crimson, but this track more than any other, was simply lodged in my cranium for days at a time. The ascending riff forms a perfect Mobius loop of sound spiraling ever upward towards the point of orgasmic release, which the song ultimately delivers.

This night the version played was significantly altered by the trio of drummers and the presence of Mel Collins. The early, brutish stages of the song featured pummeling drums that were magnified considerably by the sheer number of players involved as the guitar riffs were played. Then, the added sax of Mel Collins served to create extra pressure as he picked up what was David Cross’ violin solo on the original album version. Through it all, Fripp’s ascending guitar riff kept returning to circle upward until the song’s peak where the three drummers managed to coalesce into a accelerating, rolling percussive sound not unlike a hard rubber ball bouncing faster and faster on a hard surface as it loses its inertia before Fripp’s and Jakszyk’s final climactic blast of notes were joined by Collin’s trilling sax for an ending you’d never forget. Insert standing ovation.

Next: …The Second Act

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