IN THE COURT OF KING CRIMSON: AN OBSERVATION
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, All Hallows’ Eve, 2018
The jaw drop is a tired enough cliché, but I swear it happened tonight.
These words aren’t a review. They’re a reminder, a rough sketch … an attempt to give some form to a memory of seeing King Crimson for the first time. This was an all-timer of a show. And the nature of the sketch is to pare the experience down to a subjective essence, a couple of Moments, which is a wild disservice to the rest of the show but that’s how it has to be. I mean, this is King Crimson. Who am I to sit here and pretend to know what I’m talking about?
Because tonight, we got schooled. Big time.
First, some rapido scene setting: St David’s Hall Cardiff the venue, seated front right in the Fripp area. No cameras and no viddying during the performance say the signs and Fripp’s own genteel west-country announcement before the show: “Let’s be in the moment.” Two-part show with a mid-point interval. Three-drummer line-up across the front of the stage. Left to right we’ve got Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison: the Front Line, the statement. Behind them, left to right, are Mel Collins, Tony Levin, Bill Rieflin, Jakko Jakszyk and Robert Fripp. Voluminous three-part drum solo starts the night and says We Are Here and So Are You. Even the total ace that is Live in Chicago 2017 doesn’t capture the volume of the percussive sorcery we’re privy to right now, even though it would definitely have been there. No recording can, it’s the live effect, simple as that. Surround-sound seeing-is-believing-is-amplifying. Tracks played? Can’t recall the sequence. Many familiar (Easy Money, Indiscipline, In the Court of the Crimson King, Epitaph, Cirkus and more), many not. Part I was excellent. But Part II made the first half feel like a warm-up, even though it was nothing like. Here are a couple of moment-ous whys.
A Moment pt I: DISCIPLINE
It’s an intricate, spidery track, as we know. But to see eight people, three of them drummers, pin-pointing Discipline’s intense rhythm workout in the flesh is almost beyond belief. The whole thing’s a piece of work, but the ending? Shit me. Fripp and Jakszyk match each other’s every note on a fraught adrenalin run AND THEN land that sudden-stop ending together, exactly, inhumanly precisely … sucks your breath out. Staggering.
A Moment pt II: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN
Schizoid might be their best-known track but familiarity never diminishes its power because it’s too damned fiery a composition with an All-Time Heavy riff – and live, it’s even more feral-orchestral. You’ve got eight people pulling on its limbs: tension. Schizoid is the last track of the night and it’s a gift. Like Starless before it (another Moment), you see the band loosening just enough to visibly enjoy the home run after two-plus hours of focused performance. Jakszyk rocks out to Gavin Harrison’s 21st Century drum solo, as does Tony Levin. Fripp may even have a little more upturn on his mouth corners. But if you think they’ve loosened their hold on what really matters – The Performance – and are about to coast home, wrong wrong no no no. Right now, 21st Century Schizoid Man feels like the most dramatic crescendo ever played. You sit there, rapt and leaning forward, when – or because? – a thought pops up:
‘Are they going to make it?’
Because the pace, dexterity and interplay is frightening … someone’s wheel is gonna wobble, surely. Isn’t it?
No. Not an option. Not on this stage. Schizoid, and especially this version of it, exposes King Crimson music for what it really is: a monster. The heaviest, most fearless rock of all time.
This collective shows what guitar-based band music really can be. Cacophonous and overstimulating, delicate and beautiful, free flowing and swinging, precise and intense, tribal and rhythmical, it’s rock with its full potential realised. In this moment, you do think that most other bands, even the ones you love the most, are under performers. Are they? Or does the octet of mild-mannered suits up there on the St David’s Hall stage really operate on a more rarefied level?
Go and see. For a show that’s no-props and music only, you get a spectacle. Phenomenon as revelation.
I hope never to forget it.