King Crimson At 50 At Radio City Music Hall, Saturday, September 21st, 2019, Reviewed
Between the two P’s of rock, prog and punk, punk destroyed prog and rightfully so. UK prog was not the US psychedelia meets country as detailed by the Grateful Dead, too rural to be pompous, but the overblown meeting of classical music with English folk by overweaned University Challenge lower middle class strivers born just after WWII. Lead by Emerson, Lake And Palmer and Yes, the awfulness of musical professionalism gutting the heart of rock was (in the UK) a leading cause for the revenge of the guttersnipe 1977 UK punk. With exceptions.
David Bowie survived and thrived in the 1970s and took Brian Eno with him, Eno was close friends with experimental rocker Robert Fripp, releasing the seminal No Pussyfooting in 1973 -it will be available again in late September, an album so out there John Peel once played it backwards. Fripp was the leader of prog rockers King Crimson, whose In The Court Of King Crimson changed the sound of UK rock in 1968 (for the worse, but that wasn’t their fault), and lo, all these years later, have been touring the States for their 50th anniversary. At Radio City Music Hall, a non-believer might settle down with a feeling of resignation, the way one does for Phish or Dead And Company. But they were better than that.
With a three drummer starting line who took over from time to time, Jeremy Stacey in the middle, doubling on keyboards, Pat Mastelotto on one side, and Gavin Harrison on the other, the three drummers opened both sets of King Crimson’s Saturday evening performance at Radio City Music Hall. The result was a King Crimson who could get downright funky, the second set’s “Easy Money” brought you right back to Fripp’s friendship with Talking Heads. Opening the second set with “Drumzilla” – far from improvised, well synchronized, pounder, it made the drums the main instrument for the evening.
Still funkiness isn’t King Crimson’s calling card and the nearly three hour concert moved from atonal noise (any “Lark’s Tongue In Aspic” part you choose to mention) to AOR hard rock balladeering on an evening highlight, “Islands,” where guitarist Jakko Jakszyk channeled the late great Boz Burrell’s lead vocal (and John Wetton, who performed it live) to great effect. The show opened with Fripp’s hidden spoken word track off Islands, before handing everything over to the drums. The drums were not the only surprise, flutist Mel Collins brought one of their two true hits, “In The Court Of The Crimson King” to another level of jamminess, and on song (composition) after song, the band stood out as too tight for improvisations. Rather, they were performing, as David Hyland of Wisconsin Public Radio noted (here), a recital. The band was static, mostly instrumental, pros working on Fripp’s charge to delve into sounds wherever it might take them, from the hard charging encore “20th Century Schizoid Man,” to the clickety clackety, tic tock time keeping of “Starless,” there was a uniformed purpose that wasn’t about prog really, it was about Fripp’s vision of mainstream pop as an open window to anywhere.
With the entire King Crimson catalog available on streaming service, 73 year old Fripp might be getting his work in order for future generations to be dazzled all over again.