King Crimson, Stadsschouwburg Antwerp (Belgium), 3 November 2016
In 1969, King Crimson shook the world with a radically new sound, firing off the manic 21st Century Schizoid Man at a time when the familiar sounds of The Beatles and The Stones ruled the airwaves. Now, well into that 21st century, Robert Fripp and his gang of master musicians continue to undertake radical action. I witnessed the second of their Antwerp concerts – a nearly two-and-a-half hour onslaught. And I’m still recuperating.
What went before …
It’s fair to say I’ve had a European affair with King Crimson. I bought my first album, ‘In The Court of the Crimson King’, in Tuscany – along with Gentle Giant’s eponymous debut album, ‘H to He Who Am the Only One’ by Van Der Graaf Generator and – perhaps surprisingly – Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’, which had just been released. So it must have been 2002.
A year later I climbed the narrow alleys that lead towards the Galata Tower in Istanbul to find ‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’ in a tiny record shop. Unlike my first encounter with ‘In The Court’, I didn’t immediately get ‘Larks’. The spark caught fire months later, during a bus ride to Prague.
The irony of this KC-inspired travelogue is that Robert Fripp himself has been unwilling to play Europe after his 2003 tour of the continent. I can’t retrace why exactly, but Fripp had experienced some serious issues with the conditions of European concert venues. Thank god he reopened the case and found a way to tour this chunk of the old world again in 2015 and again 2016. On 3 November, Antwerp unfolded the red carpet for the Crimson King …
Polyrhythmic jigsaw puzzles
From the first part of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic on, it was clear we were going to be treated to a rock sound of volcanic proportions. The frontline consisted of Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison and their personalized ‘cyclops’ drumkits. An impressive, ehrm, sight. Together they produced an almost terrifying sound. I was seated in row three, at eye (and ear) level with the kick-drums. And boy, it felt like being trapped in a thunder cloud.
Whether it was justified to enlist three drummers? No doubt about that. Each one brought his own strengths to the table. Harrison proved to be the conductor and metronome of the drum department, while bowler hatted Jeremy Stacey crafted a more sober counterweight and played mean mellotron, and Mastelotto reshaped the percussive inventions of ex-KC maestro’s Jamie Muir and Bill Bruford. The result? A highly musical polyrhythmic jigsaw puzzle.
The unmoved mover
Meanwhile, Robert Fripp sat quietly in the background. Mastermind of all this tricky music. Personification of Aristotle’s ‘unmoved mover’. Guitar innovator in every conceivable way.
He recalled old cohorts Mel Collins (flute and saxophones) and bass player Tony Levin to duty. And lent the singer/guitarist spot to lifelong zealot Jakko Jakszyk, who played a PRS guitar with a striking ‘ITCOTCK’-print.
The combined careers of all these players reeds like a who’s who in rock music. Fripp famously played guitar on Bowie’s Heroes, Mel Collins provided the sax solo on Miss You by the Rolling Stones and featured on Dire Straits’ live album ‘Alchemy’, Tony Levin seems to have played with everyone but Elvis, … But there’s probably no bigger challenge for them than playing King Crimson.
The Antwerp setlist was like a wet dream (see below). There were quite a few songs from the earliest incarnations of the band, which frankly I hadn’t heard in ages. Jakko Jakszyk did a terrific job interpreting the original vocals by Greg Lake and Gordon Haskell, and even John Wetton (Easy Money and Starless).
The lack of eighties material was remarkable. It’s not unlikely that Adrian Belew’s jerky voice stylings were too much of a stretch. Even more since Jakko replaced the spoken word sections of Indiscipline with a vocal melody, which worked astonishingly well.
King Kong Crimson
The new material – there’s quite a lot of it, including two drum-only instrumentals – blended in nicely with the rest of the set. 60’s, turn-of-the-century or present-day Crimson? It all shared the same forward-thinking spirit, delicacy and King Kong-like power. At times it felt like the earth trembled underneath the Antwerp Stadsschouwburg. It reminded me of the thundering intensity of a Swans gig.
In fact, the first half of the show was a bit much to take – can’t tell you why – and I felt like I needed a pause as much as the band did. Somehow the Crimson machine ran smoother in the second half. Or was it my ears, that had ultimately surrendered to the onstage gunfire? I clearly wasn’t prepared for this. And that’s probably why the concert keeps ringing in my brain.
I don’t really feel like analyzing every player’s virtues. What would be the point? The most important thing is that this seven-headed King Crimson is a force of extreme unity. And unity makes strength. All hail the mighty King Crimson!
- Easy Money
- Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
- the finale of Banshee Legs Bell Hassle and 21st Century Schizoid Man
- and Mel Collins cheekily citing St. Thomas by Sonny Rollins during one of his solos
Full setlist – King Crimson, Antwerp 3 Nov. 2016
- Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One (‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’, 1973)
- Pictures of a City (‘In The Wake of Poseidon’, 1970)
- Lizard (The Battle of Glass Tears – Dawn Song) (‘Lizard’, 1970)
- VROOOM (‘Thrak’, 1995)
- Cirkus (‘Lizard’, 1970)
- Hell Hounds of Krim (new)
- Peace: An End (‘In The Wake of Poseidon’, 1970)
- Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) (new)
- Meltdown (new)
- Epitaph (‘In The Court of The Crimson King’, 1969)
- Easy Money (‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’, 1973)
- Radical Action II (new)
- Level Five (‘The Power to Believe’, 2002)
- Indiscipline (‘Discipline’, 1981)
- The ConstruKction of Light (‘The ConstuKction on Light’, 2000)
- The Court of the Crimson King (‘In The Court of The Crimson King’, 1969)
- The Letters (‘Islands’, 1971)
- Red (‘Red’, 1974)
- A Scarcity of Miracles (‘A Scarcity of Miracles’, 2011)
- The Talking Drum (‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’, 1973)
- Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two (‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’, 1973)
- Starless (‘Red’, 1974)
- Banshee Legs Bell Hassle (new)
- 21st Century Schizoid Man (‘In The Court of The Crimson King’, 1969)
It’s been Fripp frenzy here at Unearthing Music HQ since the show. Here’s the evidence: