One of the joys of going to gigs with a bunch of mates is getting the different viewpoints of how things went. They are informed by expectations and often with a band of the longevity of King Crimson, this relates directly to entry points to their music. As we sat down in the velvet red storied environment that is the London Palladium, it became clear that we were approaching this from different perspectives.
Someone commented that he’d been listening to “In The Wake of Poseidon” that afternoon. It was the John Wetton years for one person. Another favoured the angular skronk of the double trio line up. Personally, it was Talking Heads inspired polyrhythms of the eighties quartet. And all of that informs what you take from an evening like this.
King Crimson is the gift that keeps giving. Despite their advancing years, they continue to plough their own unique furrow. Three years on from their last UK tour, the band have moved up west from their September 2015 gigs in Hackney (which I wrote about here).
There had been a subtle lineup shift, with Bill Rieflin moving to the role of a full-time keyboard player, replaced on drums by Jeremy Stacey. Otherwise, it was as you were, Fripp tucked away in the top left-hand corner conducting proceeding.
Well, I say conducting, but what becomes apparent as the evening progresses is how much of what the band play relies on a mixture of rehearsal and intuition. For such complex music, it is incredible that there are not more telling visual cues between musicians. The interplay was subliminal and whilst Crimson are unquestionably Fripp’s band, there is a sense that this is a proper ensemble that doesn’t require anything too heavy-handed in terms of leadership whilst performing. Like a fluid machine, there is structure and rigidity but there is also space to flex and bend.
It’s exhilarating at times especially those instrumental sections that open each set. This is particularly evident in the relationship between the three drummers set across the front of the stage. Drum rolls and patterns move between each of them, the rhythm moving but static at the same time. There’s fun to be had too, watching Stacey, Pat Mastelloto and Gavin Harrison follow each other like some three-headed Gene Krupa, playing a version of “Follow The Leader” during Indiscipline whilst the band continue behind them.
The setlist has had a refresh since the Hackney gig. It’s musical swings and roundabouts for me. I missed Red and Larks Tongue In Aspic Part 1 with their bracing restrained experimental assault. If I’m completely honest, the Poseiden to Islands era is my least favourite and the long sections of Lizard at the Palladium, in particular, didn’t entirely float by boat. But I was thrilled to get three chunks of the eighties quartet in Discipline, Indiscipline and Neurotica, the latter with Belew’s paranoid vocals during the verse replaced by instrumental fury from the whole band.
It can all be forgiven though because Crimson offers something which is unique and despite effectively more than half a dozen different bands over the years, something that is identifiable of its era but also of today.
Tony Levin and Mel Collins remain key to this line up adding colour and texture. We commented on the evening that you wouldn’t necessarily pay to see Jakko perform solo but when freed from some of the more dated Pete Sinfield lyrics, his voice seemed to gain confidence, particularly for Easy Money and Neurotica. The evening also proved the power of applause. I’ve often wondered as to whether the number of encores is pre-determined but Fripp’s diary entry for the evening has revealed that the audience’s enthusiasm drew the band back on stage for a final encore of 21st Century Schizoid Man. This followed a ferocious version of Starless ending with the stage bathed in bloody red light.
And there’s always Robert Fripp. After loosening his necktie and clamping on his headphones, he’s at the centre of the maelstrom. We get those long sustained notes that so underpinned Bowie’s “Heroes”, which sadly doesn’t get an airing tonight. The squally solos appear too, the sound that hooked me in on Fashion and Up The Hill Backwards all those years ago.
Fripp has hinted that this may be their last UK tour. If so, I’m glad that I caught this stunning musical extravaganza. I’m especially grateful that it was amongst friends.