Thursday, November 16, 2017

King Crimson

This was my first live show since the Howard Jones massacre, and ironically enough, it was back at The Paramount. (Say what you will, but there's no arguing with the fact that that particular venues books more strong and interesting national shows than any other venue on Long Island.)

King Crimson was a very important band in my musical development. As I've mentioned in the past, while I was the oldest of two boys in my family (I didn't meet or become aware that I even had a younger sister until many years later), I had to rely on my peers to learn about music. And as luck would have it, my closest friend through the grammar school years, Bob, had two older brothers who happened to have pretty sophisticated musical taste.

I don't remember for sure what the first album that Bob and his family exposed me too. I suspect that it was Procol Harum's Shine on Brightly, which featured their 17-minute-plus opus "In Held 'Twas in I". But among those early forays into a completely different kind of rock music, along with Tommy by The Who and We're Only In It For The Money by Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention was an album whose cover art featured a painting of a horrific screaming face: King Crimson's In the Court of The Crimson King. It soon became one of my first albums.

There were so many amazing things about this album. Up until this period, I always thought that rock had to be about guitars -- many of my peers were just getting into Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. But here was something completely different, chock full of flutes and mellotrons, and songs with epic and/or science fiction themes. As for Greg Lake, sometimes people forget that before there was an Emerson, Lake & Palmer, he was King Crimson's original singer. And for my money, the late lamented Mr. Lake always had one of the most beautiful voices in rock.

I won't lie -- I didn't know what to make of "21st Century Schizoid Man". Many people consider this their most beloved song, but I'm not a jazz guy, and I never have been. And as beautiful as the first two minutes of "Moonchild" are, I could have lived without the 10 minutes of chimes and acoustic guitar noodling that followed it. But if nothing else, King Crimson exposed me to a whole new style of music. I went on to purchase Lizard and Islands, and eventually went back for In the Wake of Poseidon. Then in the '80s, I got into them again during the period when Adrian Belew was their lead singer. But there were other progressive rock bands such as Jethro Tull and Yes whose music I found to be more consistently to my taste, so for long periods of time, I never even thought about them.

Lately, though, since I've been involved with the Sputnik Music site, I've run into a nice little pocket of progressive rock fans who've inspired me to get back into prog rock as a genre. I've been listening to modern prog rock bands like Mostly Autumn and Ayreon, and prog rock bands from other countries like Quarteto 1111, Universal Totem Orchestra and Ingranaggi Della Valle. And all of this has renewed my interest in bands such as King Crimson. In the last year, I've picked up their albums Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Red, and I've got albums such as Starless and Bible Black, Discipline and Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind on my radar. So when I saw that King Crimson was playing at The Paramount, I had to jump on the opportunity to see them.

The first thing I noticed when entering the main part of the auditorium was three drum kits in the front of the stage, along with a pair of signs asking people not to take pictures or to videotape the performance. As the crowd filtered in, a recording of strange chimes ringing at a low volume could be heard.

I was seated upstairs, in the back section, to the far right side of the stage, which is a slightly obstructed view area. It's not too bad, but there's a luxury box in front of you. What this meant to me in practical terms was that when someone was standing in the luxury box, it blocked my view of Robert Fripp, who was positioned in the back of the stage on the same side where I was. It wasn't that big a deal though, as this concert was much more of a listening experience than a visual one.

As the band filed in, I could see that they were dressed formally in jackets and ties. Now Wikipedia lists this modern version of King Crimson as a 9-piece band, but on this night, I only counted eight. So unless one of them was blocked from my line of vision (which isn't completely impossible), they're playing one player shorter than they have been recently. [Addendum: Wikipedia has since updated their page to mention that Chris Gibson, one of the keyboard players, has recently left the band.] The only band members other than Robert Fripp whose work I'm much familiar with are the bass player/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin, who I saw live many years ago playing with Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and saxophone/flute player Mel Collins, who has been a band member on and off for many years.

As for the show itself, it was awesome. The band played for almost three-and-a-half hours, including two full sets and an encore. They played most of the songs I most wanted to hear, including the title track from Islands, "Cirkus" from Lizard, and "The Court of the Crimson King", "Epitaph" and (surprisingly) "Moonchild" (with a brief bass solo at the end instead of the 10 minutes of noodling) from In the Court of the Crimson King.

And two highlights of the night included the beautiful "Starless" from Red, and a smoking hot version of, yes, "21st Century of Schizoid Man" as the closer to the second set. (Even I have to admit it was  great). They probably played more from Monkey Mind than I'd have liked (since I'm not familiar with that album yet), but then again, even though it's a live album, it's also their most recent album of original music, so that was understandable. And while I'd have loved to have heard "In the Wake of Poseidon", " Talk to the Wind" and "Waiting Man", I'm quibbling. The tickets, though a little pricier than some, were a bargain compared to the strength of the show. (You can find a full setlist, courtesy of our friends at, at I left the theater fully satisfied.

So that's it for my concert tickets for this year, at least as far as national shows go (although I'm planning to finally catch He-Bird, She-Bird locally this weekend). But I do have my eyes on a couple of tours scheduled for the early part of 2018, so we'll see what happens. In the meantime, King Crimson is playing in the city this weekend, both Friday and Saturday nights at The Beacon Theater. So if you happen to be in the area, you might want to catch them. Who knows when (or if) they'll be around these parts again.