King Crimson Review: London Palladium, 2nd November 2018
King Crimson have had many different lineups over the years, with guitarist Robert Fripp being the one constant member. Fripp is one of my favourite guitarists – technically brilliant, inventive and aggressive in his playing and arranging. He famously played the iconic guitar part on David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, as well as working with Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Blondie, Talking Heads, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai.
The current lineup consists of: Robert Fripp (guitar, Mellotron, keyboards, Frippertronics, soundscapes), Mel Collins (saxophones, flute), Tony Levin (bass guitar, electric upright bass, Chapman Stick, backing vocals), Pat Mastelotto (percussion, acoustic and electronic drums), Gavin Harrison (main drums), Jakko Jakszyk (lead vocals, guitar), Bill Rieflin (keyboards, synthesizer, Mellotron, backing vocals), and Jeremy Stacey (drums, keyboards, backing vocals).
Yes, you read it correctly – three drummers! Unfortunately none of them are Bill Bruford, who has retired. The three drummers are set at the front of the stage, with the rest of the band on risers behind them. The show opened with a percussion piece played by all three drummers. It went on a bit too long for me, as many drum solos do – I guess that drummers often feel the same way about guitar solos!
I must admit that I wasn’t always sure what I was listening to. Crimson haven’t released a studio album since 2003, but they have been writing together since this new incarnation was formed in 2017. Cirkus (from 1970s’ Lizard’ album) was the first piece I recognised, with Jakko Jakszyk’s voice lost in the mix at the start, but this problem was quickly fixed by the sound crew. I can only imagine how difficult it must be running the sound for an eight piece band of multi-instrumentalists!
‘Red’ (from 1974s album of the same name) was a sonic force to be reckoned with. Raucous, uncompromising power; the relentless intensity of the theme riff smacking you between the eyes like a brick. Fripp’s Gibson Les Paul tone deliberately ugly, balanced by Jakko’s rounder PRS P24. An absolute cacophony of tension.
A moment of calm followed, with the haunting ‘Moonchild’ nicely segueing into ‘The Court Of The Crimson King (Including The Return of the Fire Witch and The Dance of the Puppets)’ – a fittingly fancy title for this fantasy-themed song. Bill Rieflin hammed up the scherzo parts of the coda on keyboards, to the delight of the audience, with Fripp on keys for most of this piece too.
The awesome Tony Levin played a nice bass solo on this piece, switching from pizzicato to bowed electric upright bass, complete with dinosaur noises! He really is the master of his instruments, and I felt truly privileged to see him perform. Levin has worked with Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Dire Straits, Buddy Rich, Yes, and many more legendary artists – appearing on over 500 albums.
Of the three drummers on stage, I enjoyed Pat Mastelotto (left hand side) the most. He seems like more of a rock drummer than a technician, not that he isn’t technically great of course. I just liked the feel of what he was playing. He has a large array of gongs and cymbals, including one that is bat shaped, which at one point he appeared to be hitting with some pieces of broken cymbal, but I’ve probably got that wrong!
The bowler-hatted Jeremy Stacey (middle of stage) played keyboards a lot of the time, as well as trading fills and grooves with Mastelotto and Harrison.
Jakko Jakszy’s vocals really shone on the sixties and seventies repertoire: his range, power and tone sitting beautifully amongst the dense textures of the band. He mainly played his custom ‘Crimson’ PRS, but occasionally picked up his Gibson 150HD for the gentler moments.
‘Indiscipline’ was a brilliant showcase for the three drummer setup. The band played the repetitive, stabbing, intro riff while the drummers took turns playing grooves to it in different time signatures. They then had a ‘drum-off’, copying each others increasingly elaborate fills, before the main song kicked in. That was amazing to watch, and they were clearly having a lot of fun.
Jakko’s reinterpretation of Adrian Belew’s vocal part on ‘Indiscipline’ was interesting. He added melody, where before there was spoken poetry, Belew was such a unique singer compared to all the other Crimson singers, and it would have been strange for Jakko to suddenly start singing with an American accent. It did make it feel like a different song though.
Mel Collins shone on woodwind, changing instruments many times (often in the same song). I definitely spotted soprano, alto and baritone saxophone, maybe a tenor too! His flute playing was also wonderful. The mellow ‘Islands’ was a real feature for him, and he played some beautifully melodic solos. Collins has worked with bigger names than King Crimson in the past, including Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones, and Bad Company.
‘One More Red Nightmare’ (from ‘Red’), was greatly extended and brutally uncompromising! ‘Easy Money’ (from 1973s ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic’), was sleazy prog-funk at it’s best, and I loved every second of it.
The first encore was the song I’d been waiting for, Starless. I love everything about this song, the lyrics, melody, complexity of the arrangement, simplicity of the guitar solo, the delicacy, the power, the jazzy sax solo out of nowhere, and the awesome percussion – it was great to see it live. Fripp’s guitar solo on this is one of my all time favourite solos – a masterclass in how to build tension… So I was surprised to see Jakko start playing it, albeit with beautiful intonation! There was a bit of an overlap and some unison playing, before Fripp took over to build to the climax. Here is a video of King Crimson playing ‘Starless’ live – the guitar solo starts at around 4:21.
The roadies came on stage and unplugged a load of gear during the standing ovation, but we didn’t give up, and eventually they plugged it all back in (all part of the show no doubt), and Crimson came on for the second encore, their most famous song: ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’. The lyrics are still as relevant today as they were in 1969. The power of this song was simply immense. Gavin Harrison played an awesome drum solo in the middle, but I was secretly thankful that the other two drummers didn’t take a solo each too!
Here is a video of Crimson playing a truncated version of ‘Schizoid Man’ in Hyde park in 1969, supporting The Rolling Stones.
Most people I know either haven’t heard of King Crimson, or don’t like them! I guess you either ‘get them’ or you don’t. I was blown away by their live show. The level of musicianship of the individual members is simply astonishing, but combine them all together and you create a prog-rock monster. It is an intense, heavy show – but if you like that sort of thing, you won’t be disappointed!
You can read my interview with Jakko Jakszyk here.