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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Concert Review: The Return of the Smooth Kriminals

King Crimson strip the paint off the Beacon Theater.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Starless and Bible Black and white: The men of King Crimson prepare to take the stage at the Beacon Theater
Photo by Dave Salt from TonyLevin.com 
[Ed. Note: Those of you who read Superconductor regularly know that three weeks ago, we dedicated a column  to King Crimson, the seminal and long-running progressive rock band, currently on tour in support of its Radical Action live boxed set. Well, the tour came to New York's Beacon Theater and we are happy to report that we snagged tickets. So here's another review, hopefully for your enjoyment.]

King Crimson stand alone among the long-lived, still-active rock bands that rose up in the first wave of what is referred today as so-called "progressive" or "prog" rock. The band is not so much a steady working unit as a collection of committed musicians, who form themselves around the guitar wizardry of 71-year old Robert Fripp. Mr. Fripp remains a pioneer of both his chosen instrument and electronic effects. He still plays seated, and still makes more noise than a New York City garbage truck at 6 a.m.



His cohorts include Tony Levin, the veteran bass player who has served as a side and session man for Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd. Mr. Levin's tapped bass technique (on both traditional four-string and the Chapman Stick) is integral, a vast and complex undercarpet of sound. Next to Mr. Levin: reed man Mel Collins, who returned to King Crimson in 2013 after four decades away. His honking, grinding baritone sax held down the bottom end, but it was his ethereal soprano sax and flute that rose and twinned with Mr. Fripp's sharp-edged guitar.

The show opened with the group's three drummers playing the first notes of "Hell Hounds of Krim." Their three separate kits, spaced evenly across the stage are in different styles and made by different manufacturers. The only thing in common: the group's current logo, an airbrush painted figure in a business suit who happens to be a cyclops. The three drummers sounded the opening notes from right to left: Gavin Harrison, then Jeremy Stacy, then Pat Mastelotto before the whole band swung in behind, building up a raging, roaring momentum of sound.

As with the show seen on Oct. 31 in Newark, there was an announcement (recorded by Mr. Fripp) urging concert goers to set their cameras aside while the band was playing. The Crims offered two sets. The first featured such quirky tunes as "Neurotica" from Beat,  "CirKus" of  the Lizard album, and the title track from Radical Action, with the band delivering swirling clouds of orchestral perfume, jagged guitar lightning and Mr. Collins' arsenal of flutes and saxes functioning almost like a second singer.

It was surprising to hear selections from the legendary 1968 debut In the Court of the Crimson King in the first set. Singer Jakko Jakszyk sounded uncannily like the late Greg Lake on the opening notes of "Moonchild." The Mellotron-heavy title track had Mr. Stacy and Mr. Fripp switch to small keyboards, supplanting the keys of Chris Gibson and vastly expanding the band's palette. It was followed by the first two parts of the marvelous Larks' Tongues in Aspic to close out the first half.

The second set started with the swirling vortex of Indiscipline, one of the band's most complicated tracks from its '80s incarnation. Mr. Levin switched from Stick to four-stringed bass at times, and Mr. Fripp and Mr. Jakszyk added weight to the groove with their guitars to the slow epic "Starless" from Red and the twisty tangles of "Level Five." The gentle "Islands" gave way to the metallic screaming of "21st Century Schizoid Man" complete with an epic Gavin Harrison drum workout.

The encore was "Easy Money" from the Larks record, delivered in a relaxed and jazzy manner with great vocals from Mr. Jakzyk. The band's flexibility, sheer power and refusal to compromise with traditional rock star tropes make seeing King Crimson live a unique experience. Would that all touring ensembles have this octet's integrity and dogged pursuit of presenting music as a medium without any sugar to sweeten the medicine going down. Again, long may they reign.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.