Archives for posts with tag: live albums

In this review, I look at the 40th Anniversary editions of two King Crimson live albums. I’ve been a fan of the USA album since before I knew where it stood in the KC canon. Earthbound, however, was never high on my listening list. Having launched into this adventure of rambling through the King Crimson discography, however, I was inclined to give it another go, especially as the notoriously lo-fi recordings are accompanied by an (expectedly cleaner) radio session, Live at Summit Studios, in this release. More on Summit later.

My favourite thing about Earthbound, recorded on the Islands tour in early 1972, is Boz Burrell’s voice. Being a fan of the classic mid-70s lineup that produced USA, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the limitations of Wetton’s voice always grated on me. With this in mind, however, these recordings also reveal in stark relief why leader Robert Fripp gave the Islands lineup the boot. Fripp himself had already moved on before they went on the road to meet contractual obligations. The other three members, Mel Collins on flutes and saxophones, Burrell on bass/vocals, and Ian Wallace on drums, are very loose in their playing and seem to want to be more of a boogie band than a progressive rock outfit. The original release consisted of 21st Century Schizoid Man, two improvs, a particularly sloppy Sailor’s Tale, and an extended jam on Groon, the instrumental b-side of the very jazzy Cat Food from 1970. The initial release of Groon was only about four minutes (four different takes can be found on the 40th Anniversary Edition of In the Wake of Poseidon), but on this tour, it was regularly extended past fifteen.

The CD portion of this release extends the initial album with Pictures of a City, Formentera Lady, and Cirkus. The DVD portion extends it further with Ladies of the Road, The Letters, and full versions of The Sailor’s Tale and Groon.

kc-eb-usa-back-smThe opening Schizoid man pushes the needle to the red in terms of both saturation and energy. While the structure remains the same, the improvisations in the middle exceed what is expected. Mel Collins’ sax work is intense, and marred somewhat by drumming that seems to be, possibly, part of a different song. Fripp ropes everyone back in with some searing runs. Boz’s treated vocals are more menacing that we hear in later versions, which is somehow appropriate.

Peoria lets us in with some bass/horn/drum interplay, but if Fripp’s guitar is in there, it’s very low in the mix. Sailor’s Tale fades in and closes out side 1. It’s the only song on Earthbound’s original release that also appears on the album they were touring, Islands. It’s a bit sloppy – and perhaps it’s this tendency to sloppiness that frustrated Fripp, but on its own terms it works.

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Vital is a weird one for me because it was the only Van Der Graaf I purchased as a kid. I honestly didn’t know what to make of it. I only knew about Van Der Graaf at all because of references to the 6 Bob Tour (Genesis/VDGG/Lindisfarne – all Charisma Records artists who toured together in ’71) in Armando Gallo’s Genesis: I Know What I Like, which I read cover-to-cover multiple times. So when I finally saw a Van Der Graaf album in the used bins (probably at Rhino on Westwood Blvd, but not sure), I grabbed it. I played it a couple of times but really had no idea. Listening to it now, nothing is familiar from listening to it then. I haven’t recognized any of the songs from delving into the catalog these last few weeks.

vdgg-vAll in all, it’s pretty good stuff. As with most of Van Der Graaf’s work, it’s pretty compelling and there’s no easy entry.

To give the uninitiated an idea of how truly contrary this band was, they opened (the album, if not the gig – one isn’t sure what the original set list was) with Ship of Fools, the b-side to a single (the previous year’s Cat’s Eye) that was only issued in France. Mirror Images would appear on a Hammill solo album the following year. The vocals are far forward in the mix and the arrangement is sparse, enabling better understanding than is often the case with VDGG’s music. On the other hand, it’s another seriously wordy Hammill lyric that requires a lot of parsing.

The album covers music from almost their entire history including a truncated Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (in a medley with Godbluff‘s The Sleepwalkers) and Pioneers over c. The violin and cello bring an interesting new dimension to the older work. Though David Jackson (sax/flute) had left the band during the recording of Quiet Zone/Pleasure Dome, he played this gig and the noise he brings to Pioneers contrasts nicely with the strings, especially in the song’s middle section. This performance opens side 3/disc 2 and received the greatest applause.

Sci-Finance (later released on a Hammill solo album) is a pretty hard track about big business. It’s mostly short on dynamics until the instrumental break which seems to be a competition between a violin, a horn, and a guitar.

Door, another non-album track (a demo version was later appended to Quiet Zone), has a spoken introduction in which Hammill tries to explain the song. It’s odd that it’s the only one on an album with more lyrically challenging pieces that would have been unfamiliar. This is another one with a great improvisational section comprising the second half of the piece. It’s followed by a song titled Urban/Killer/Urban, the middle of which is an instrumental version of the song that opens H To He Who Am The Only One. It’s an interesting way of including one of the band’s more recognizable songs.

And the whole adventure concludes with Nadir’s Big Chance, the punk-ish title track of a 1975 Hammill solo album. Lyrically it bears a disturbing resemblance toMirror Stars by The Fabulous Poodles (who, according to an image in Vital’s CD booklet, played the Marquee the same week Vital was recorded.