Royal Albert Hall
The stage is set with three large and quite beautiful drum kits at the front, with the rest of the band’s gear behind. I’d heard about the three drummers, which was a concern (two drummers almost always being one too many) but I needn’t have worried. The band come on stage promptly at 7.30 after an amusing plea not to take pictures during the performance read, I’m fairly sure, by Fripp himself and immediately the drummer thing makes sense. These are drummers like Ronaldo kicks a ball. They all play the kit musically and like well drilled artillery, but also a range of percussion, gongs, octoplus and rota toms – if you can hit it, you can be confident these three did between them at some point. And it is utterly gripping to watch and hear as textures and grooves float across the stage and back. We’re only 2 minutes in…
The percussion fest settles into “Larks Tongues part 1” and “Cirkus” then “Lizard” follow swiftly. The flexibility of this Crimson lineup becomes clear when I realise the middle drummer is also a keyboard player, and in fact probably plays keys more then drums over the course of the evening. Jako Jakszyk plays second guitar and handles the more wailing rock stuff while Fripp does his multi note almost sequencer type style and signature solos where the arrangement demands it. I also realise that’s Mel Collins on saxes and flute in “Cirkus” – I hand’t realised he’s on the bill – what a fabulous touch he has, adding some lyricism to the pretty heavy groove orientated sound.
The setup is interesting as it’s clear the intention is the present a focus on ensemble playing – there’s no obvious front man as there was say in the Adrian Belew era. No one wears a pink suit. Bassist Tony Levin is centre stage in sharp waistcoat and suit trousers playing a variety of basses (usual several per song) and Chapman Stick (why can’t you ever hear these damn things? The minute anyone picks one up they vanish from the sound) and has a spotlight all night but he’s just standing there playing bass. No gurning, no shapes thrown – but they’re gripping to watch all the same. There is some choreography when the drummers do their thing which is fun, but other than that it’s just completely absorbing watching 6 blokes meshing together to produce something so complex, grooving and downright musical.
The set continues with classic Crimson from the earliest Court of the Crimson King material and on through the albums, a highlight being a pretty “Cadence and Cascade” providing some light relief before “One More Red Nightmare” and “Discipline”, where the ensemble playing is thrilling. Jako ain’t John Wetton but his vocals are as near as damnit and no one was complaining. On “Epitaph” the great line about confusion rings out, echoed by most of the audience. The second set closed with a version of “Starless” which rightly gets a standing ovation. A brief pause, and it can only be one song for the encore. All together…. “Cat’s foot iron claw…Neurosurgeons scream for more …At paranoia’s poison door …Twenty first century schizoid man”.
Gig of the year so far.
A pleasing mix actually. Quite a few greyhairs of course. and some who have obviously had more than a passing interest in the brown acid in the past (including one elderly lady at the end of our row who was literally levitating from her seat at points) but younger faces too. Younger hipsters were in evidence and in fact as I was leaving Twang Jr revealed he likes Crimson – news to me – apparently they frequently feature on the more exoteric guitar orientated Spotify play lists so the flame still burns.
It made me think..
I love the fact that these ancient bands are still out there doing interesting things and sounding great. I’ve had some very disappointing nights with my heroes letting me down, but this was tremendous. I’m not a massive Crimson fan – I know most of the albums and like them, but I think I’ve moved up a category and want to fully investigate the back catalogue further.