Live In Chicago, 28 June 2017

King Crimson

Inner Knot, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/04/2017

The King Crimson live discography is massive and unwieldy, even for fans, but there is always one live release from each version of the band that stands above the rest. Now in its fifth iteration, the mighty Crim has been touring off and on since 2013 as a seven-piece and eight-piece band. Live In Chicago captures an exemplary date (according to Robert Fripp) from the 2017 tour.

More so that most other Crimson live discs, this one is a huge treat for longtime fans because of the inclusion of older material that has rarely – or in some cases, never – been played live. Thanks to the inclusion of original sax and flute player Mel Collins, Crimson has now added material from Islands, Lizard, and In The Wake Of Poseidon to their repertoire. And, in a break from tradition, the band now looks back through its entire history for the setlist; whereas the Discpline-era band would mostly play ‘80s material and the Red-era band would mostly play songs from mid-‘70s material, the new lineup plays one song from pretty much every album now (ignoring Three Of A Perfect Pair, good riddance) as well as some new material.

All that is compelling enough, but it’s still not the best part. Fripp as a performer has moved away from the meandering pretensions and the metallic riffs that were a constant and returned to the subtleties of his earlier playing. Working in tandem with Michael “Jakko” Jakszyk on vocals and dual guitar (replacing Adrian Belew), the Crimson musical attack is now muscular jazz-rock that incorporates everything the band has done and distills it into what they should sound like. It’s a refinement of 48 years of music and it’s a triumph; certainly, multiple concertgoers have commented that Fripp appears to be smiling and having fun on stage, which he hasn’t done in decades.nbtc__dv_250

Granted, this is King Crimson music, so it is difficult and tricky, but rather than lean into the odd time signatures and unwieldy solos, audience be damned, the band plays tricky tunes “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” (Parts 1 and 2), “Fallen Angel,” the clanking failure “Easy Money,” “Level Five,” and “The ConstruKction of Light” with power and brilliant interplay. The pop side that Belew brought is ably enhanced by Jakszyk, who not only reimagines two Belew-era tracks (“Indiscipline” and “Neurotica”) but contributes the very good “Meltdown,” which sounds like a modern update on a song Belew may have written for Beat or THRAK.

As for the long-awaited older songs, the gorgeous “Islands” is sublimely rendered, “Cirkus” takes on a scary quality reminiscent of its name and only hinted at back in 1970, “The Lizard Suite” nimbly presents about 10 minutes of the original sidelong suite (the last half, not the part Jon Anderson sang), and both “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Pictures of a City” are rampaging jazz-rock monsters, switching from roaring power chords to saxophone solos (and a great Fripp spot on the former) without batting an eye. Even the deep cut “The Letters” gets a workout; it’s still an awkward and mediocre song by Crimson standards, but it’s at least interesting now in the hands of bassist Tony Levin, Collins and the triple-drum attack that makes up the frontline of the band on stage.

“The Errors” and “Radical Action II” are solid new entries as well, suggesting (along with “Meltdown”) that a new King Crimson album would be a very good one indeed, while the epic closer “Starless” is as good as ever. Also worth noting is a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which seems very out of place alongside something as clanky and odd as “Easy Money” but which this band pulls off very nimbly…not least because, as you may remember, Fripp played guitar on the original. Jakszyk, for his part, imbues the vocals with sincerity; he is as good at the mic as every other Crimson vocalist except Greg Lake.

Anyone who heard the triple-disc set Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind already knew what this band was capable of. But that semi-live collection was a bit antiseptic in spots and, due to the lack of crowd, lacked the kinetic energy that a “hot date” brings. At Chicago, the band was firing on all cylinders and they knew it. Although all eight guys contribute equally, Collins is the secret player that holds it all together. His sax and/or flute not only enhances his original contributions but add a layer to other Crimson tracks that you didn’t know existed.

To wit: In the liner notes, Fripp delineates what he considers the four true iterations of the band: the 1969 Court Of The Crimson King lineup, the 1974 Red lineup, the 1981 Discipline lineup, and the current lineup (summarily dismissing the 1994-‘97 era as more than the sum of its parts and the ‘98-‘03 era as less than the sum of its parts). The new eight-headed beast is that good.

Rating: B+

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