King Crimson @ Best Buy Theater - 9/18/14
King Crimson

The sleeping giant became the roaring beast this past week as King Crimson rolled into town for four shows at NYC's Best Buy Theater Thursday (9/18) through Sunday (9/21). Specifically titled The Elements of King Crimson, this lineup has also been referred to as KC Mark VIII. Before going any further, let it be known that yes, I am a Crim geek. I am one of those who has sat in a room with headphones on for hours obsessing over their albums and songs as well as having seen the band live previous times. So after a long exhausting week I headed into the theater for night 1, tired as hell and not sure if I would be able to stay afloat for the entire evening. Unfortunately it did not start out well. Apparently everyone decided to arrive at the same time so the lines to get into into the theater were crazy long and moving slowly. Suddenly as I got to the front, some genius (apparently from the band's management) decided to shut the doors as the band came on stage giving out the edict that no one else could come in until the second song was done. Hmm, yeah, with a much older crowd, already imbibing and having paid a lot for tickets... well you do the math on how that went over. I'm standing outside the doors listening to one of my favorite bands kick into "Larks Tongues in Aspic pt 1." Argh. Luckily they rescinded the order after the first song and swung open the doors to let everyone else in.

Once we were in, King Crimson was already at a major high point, playing "Pictures of a City" from their second album In The Wake of Poseidon. The mellotron, so prominently used on that record is replaced by 3 drummers heavily blasting away: Pat Mastelotto, whose been with Crimson for a number of years now and 2 semi newbies, Bill Rieflin, who toured with R.E.M the last few years of their existence, and Gavin Harrison from the band Porcupine Tree previously. (And as an aside if you love prog, Steven Wilson the leader of PT has been remastering/remixing some classic albums and they sound great.) The setup has the drummers in front spread out and behind them a level up are the sublime Tony Levin on bass, singer-guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, and the return of the phenomenal Mel Collins on flute and array of saxes. Finally all the way in the corner lies Der Leader, Robert Fripp.

Not going to bore you with too much of the tech talk and geek info because you don't want to know that. You want to know if it rocked. Yeah it did. It kind of blew me away. This was not your father's King Crimson. It was heavier and less, for lack of a better word, proggier. While the keyboard and mellotron flourishes were still there at times, it was to minor effect. This lineup was driven by three major elements: the heretofore mentioned triple attack drumming, Professor Fripp's astonishing guitar work which was on full display -- the stabbing staccato punctuations, the long extended notes, the beautiful melodies and yes the "Frippertronic" effects -- and the third element and really what defined the show for me was Mel Collins. He was on fire. Driving some of the songs with his gentle flute playing only to give way to some serious skronking tenor sax shrieks. Was great to have him back in the fold.

The setlists for the tour have pretty much stayed the same. We got classic songs like "Red" and "One More Red Nightmare" from 1974's Red, which is the latest album to get the massive KC box set treatment (The Road to Red and it kills). "One More Red Nightmare" in particular was gigantic in this configuration with a drumming onslaught that would give the Melvins a run for their money (Dale Crover loves Crimson). "The Letters" from 1971's Islands and a few from the great Larks Tongues in Aspic. There was even a pretty funny running gag, a looped audio transmission of an inept journalist trying to ask Fripp some probing questions about the band. It was the last song before the encore and the final song of the evening though that drove everyone into the stratosphere. From Red, the rarely performed "Starless" and to end the evening, a song Fripp refused to play for years, "21st Century Schizoid Man" from the first LP In The Court of the Crimson King.

It was a show to remember. So many different styles of music on display. Ornate folk, 1970s style hard rock, prog, free jazz and the Crim even got funky at times. Were there disappointments? Of course, how could there not be. For one, I've never been completely sold on Jakko as a vocalist. He certainly is no John Wetton and not even Greg Lake. As well, this configuration of the band is less free form and experimental than previous lineups. There were not many extended workouts here. Finally, while I can't complain about the setlists, I would have loved to see what this setup could do with songs like "Easy Money" or the as yet unreleased/only heard live "Doctor Diamond." Hell I would have killed for anything off the studio/live Starless and Bible Black album which is so underrated and such a beast.

Who knows where King Crimson goes from here? Fripp has hinted this might be it and the few new tracks they played were basic instrumental type things. Cross your fingers for more because after shows like this, it's clear the awoken giant still has a lot of life left in him.

A few more pictures of night 1 and the setlists from all four nights, below...

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King Crimson

King Crimson

King Crimson

King Crimson

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King Crimson

Night 1 - 9/18/14 Setlist

Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
A Scarcity of Miracles
The Letters
The ConstruKction of Light
Hell Bells
Sailor's Tale
Level Five
Red
One More Red Nightmare
VROOOM
The Light of Day
The Talking Drum
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
Starless

Encore:
Hell-Hounds of Krim
21st Century Schizoid Man

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Night 2 - 9/19/14 Setlist
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Level Five
The ConstruKction of Light
VROOOM
Coda: Marine 475
A Scarcity of Miracles
Red
The Letters
Sailor's Tale
One More Red Nightmare
The Light of Day
The Talking Drum
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
Starless

Encore:
Hoodoo
21st Century Schizoid Man

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Night 3 - 9/20/14 Setlist
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
The Talking Drum
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
The Letters
Pictures of a City
A Scarcity of Miracles
Sailor's Tale
The ConstruKction of Light (Part One)
Level Five
The Light of Day
Red
One More Red Nightmare
21st Century Schizoid Man

Encore:
Hell-Hounds of Krim
Starless

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Night 4 - 9/21/14 Setlist
Hoodoo
Level Five
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
A Scarcity of Miracles
The ConstruKction of Light
Red
One More Red Nightmare
Back Line Improv
The Letters
VROOOM
Coda: Marine 475
The Light of Day
Sailor's Tale
The Talking Drum
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
Starless

Encore:
Hell Hounds Of Krim
21st Century Schizoid Man

all setlists via setlist.fm