Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Hell Hounds of Krim
The ConstruKction of Light
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Easy Money
Level Five
The Talking Drum
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
E: In the Court of the Crimson King
E: 21st Century Schizoid Man

As with most previous incarnations of King Crimson, the latest is a lineup of insanely talented musicians. In this case, the band is trying to take on the aspects of its entire history. Noting that Crimson is whatever guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp says it is, it’s impressive to see and hear them incorporate several tracks from the band’s 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. The title track, added on this tour hadn’t been performed by the band since 1971; 21st Century Schizoid Man wasn’t played by the 80s incarnation, but has been a mainstay since the Thrak tour in 1996. (I saw them on that tour in Berkeley and Adrian Belew introduced it saying ‘I don’t think we’ve played this here before.’) Epitaph was added to the set last month, having not been performed since the initial tour for the album in 1969.

At the other end of the timeline are tracks from the final studio albums of the Adrian Belew-fronted editions of the band, an instrumental version of the title track of 2000’s ConstuKction of Light and Level Five from 2003’s The Power to Believe (between 2003 and 2010, there were a couple of tours with Belew and line-up changes, but no albums), and new pieces Hell Hounds of Krim and Meltdown.

While the renditions of Epitaph and Crimson King were both faithful, and sound very much of their time, Schizoid Man, with its combination of improvisation, treated vocals, and heavy guitar has always been the earliest example of jazz metal. Pictures of a City dates from 1969 as well, though it didn’t appear on record until the following year’s In the Wake of Poseidon. This is the only other track from King Crimson’s early progressive period in the set. The three albums that followed Crimson King all featured Mel Collins on saxophones and flutes, and the current tour is the first Collins has played with the band since 1972. (Not that he hasn’t been busy enough – his CV includes work with Camel, Roger Waters, and some Crimson-related acts including 21st Century Schizoid Band.)

The heart of the set, for me, were the pieces from the ’72-’74 golden age. Following the tour for 1972’s Islands, Fripp disbanded the group (one could cite ‘creative differences’), only to reform it a few months later with two percussionists, Bill Bruford from Yes and an absolutely insane bloke named Jamie Muir; John Wetton (bass/vocals); and David Cross (violin/mellotron). The three albums recorded by variations on this lineup, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red are classics, recently reissued in 15+ CD sets that include as much related live material as the band have in their archives. Following Red, there was no tour as Fripp disbanded the crew again. (This time it had a lot to do with an absolutely lousy record contract – lousy even by the standards of the time, from what I’ve read.)

Between ’74 and about 1980, Fripp appeared on a number of projects – producing Peter Gabriel’s second solo album, his own solo album Exposure, projects with Brian Eno, David Bowie’s Heroes album, Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, and a crew called The League of Gentlemen (with Sarah Lee who would join Gang of Four and Barry Andrews who was between XTC and Shriekback). LoG recorded one album in the runout groove of which was etched ‘The Next Step is Discipline’. Discipline was to be the name of Fripp’s next band which consisted of Fripp, Bruford, Tony Levin (bass, about whom more below), and Adrian Belew (guitar/vocals). When it came down to it, Fripp decided this was the next incarnation of King Crimson and retained the name Discipline only in the title of that lineup’s first album.

Belew is a gregarious character whose had already worked with Zappa, Bowie (the Heroes tour and Lodger album), and Talking Heads among others. He fronted the various lineups of KC between 1981 and 2008. These included the three different lineups that recorded Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair between ’81 and ’84, Vrooom and Thrak in the mid-90s and The ConstruKtion of Light and The Power to Believe between 2000 and 2003. Fripp decided he was after something else with the new group and did not invite Belew along. Oddly, Belew has fronted The Crimson ProjeKct with all six members of the Stick Men (Levin, Mastelotto [about whom more below as well], and guitarist Markus Reuter) and The Adrian Belew Power Trio. These shows leaned heavily on the 81-84 material as well.

The title track of Red, another piece of proto-heavy metal, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part 2 were mainstays of KC sets from the 1981 reformation onward, but Starless (also from Red, but containing the refrain ‘Starless and bible black’) hadn’t been performed until this tour since the tours that led up to Red’s recording in ’74. The Talking Drum was a mainstay of the double-trio lineup of the mid-90s and briefly in 2008.

The current incarnation of King Crimson is an interesting bunch. Fripp as always seated upper right on guitar. Next is Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocal. Jakko has worked on an large number of projects since the early 80s including stints with Level 42 and Tom Robinson and work with a pre-Porcupine Tree Gavin Harrison. In 2001 he joined with members of the earliest KC incarnations to form 21st Century Schizoid Band. In 2010 he worked with Fripp on an album that, with contributions from Collins, Harrison, and Tony Levin became A Scarcity of Miracles, which is very much in the KC vein.

Tony Levin on bass and Chapman stick has been in most KC lineups since 1981. He first worked with Fripp on Peter Gabriel’s second solo album (which Fripp produced), and played on Fripp’s 1978 solo album Exposure. Next to Levin on the top row of the stage stood Mel Collins surrounded an array of horns.

 The front row of the stage on this tour is populated by three drummers. On the left is Pat Mastelotto who has recorded since the early 80s (including as a founding member of Mr. Mister who had two #1s that you might recall). He and Harrison both recorded with Barbara Gaskin in the early 80s. He’s been with Crimson since the mid-90s. Front and centre is one who might be the oddest member, Bill Rieflin. Rieflin is best known in some circles for his participation in a number of 90s era industrial acts including Ministry, Pigface, and KMFDM. However, he was also in The Minus Five with REM’s Peter Buck and took to the drumkit for REM’s last couple of albums/tours. His short-lived Slow Music Project featured Buck and Fripp. And finally, in front of Fripp, Gavin Harrison. At 52, Harrison is the youngest member of the current lineup, and is possibly best known for his membership in Porcupine Tree since 2002. He’s been a professional musician since the early 80s as well and has been in KC since 2008.

Mastelotto is the most physical and almost manic, while Harrison is the most fluid of the drummers. In the opening piece  of the set, Mastelotto took on the crazy percussion work originally done by Jamie Muir. (See this version from 1973 – Muir’s the one with the Van Dyke; Bruford is the one in overalls.) Watching Harrison’s playing is almost like watching water flow. While none of the three is an imprecise player, Rieflin is the most precise in terms of stature and attention. Sitting bolt upright most of the time, he looked almost uncomfortable, but worked with great synergy with the other two drummers and with the rest of the band. The band requested that the audience make no recordings or photos during the show and for the most part this was respected. Alas, the band has been vigilant about taking down videos posted from the tour. Early on, there was a medium-quality clip of 21st Century Schizoid Man that featured Harrison’s gorgeous drum solo. I have high hopes that a professional video or audio recording of this tour will be released sometime in the not too distant future.