Concert Review: Legendary King Crimson Kills It In Boston!

Forefathers of Prog Invade Orphem Theatre, 11/6/17

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Venturing into Boston on a rainy yet warm Monday night, the anticipation to see progressive rock royalty was in the air as the crowd gathered along the narrow entranceway, leading to the iconic Orpheum Theatre and a date with the legendary King Crimson. The band is currently performing throughout North America on their tour dubbed “Radical Action.”

Review by Joe Milliken * Photos: Live shots by David Singleton. Marquee shot by Joe Milliken

Led by guitarist Robert Fripp, the forward-thinking founder has never relied on a particular lineup over the 48-year history of this iconic band, and the flexibility has allowed him to pursue diversity and instrumental experimentation that no band can rival. Along with long-time members Tony Levin (bass), Mel Collins (saxophones and flutes), and Pat Mastelotto (drums), this incarnation also includes Jakko Jakszyk (guitar/lead vocals), Chris Gibson (keyboards), Gavin Harrison (drums), and Jeremy Stacey (drums/piano/vocals).

Fripp labels this versatile octet as a “double quartet,” as the line-up boldly creates sonic arrangements, distinctive solos, and an occasional delicate moment, but mostly, wave after wave of powerful rock-jazz-classical-fusion music at its finest. They delighted the devoted, enthusiastic audience throughout the nearly three-hour set, which was divided equally by a twenty-minute intermission. Of note, the band also strictly enforced a “no photography” rule, (including large signs on the stage, and announcements over the PA) with no cameras or cell phones allowed until the music was complete, as the band said good night.

The set list was diverse, unique, and the song arrangements fresh, touching upon each incarnation of the band’s storied career, including a couple unexpected gems, such as “Islands” and “Breathless,” a song from Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure.

The show-opening “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” was mesmerizing from the outset, immediately showcasing the in-your-face aspect of having a three-drummer set up, front-and-center, before the frantic “Neurotica,” from 1982’s Beat album, really set the tone and featured some sensational bass work from the legendary Tony Levin. Also of note early on, a unique element featuring the drummer Spencer on piano, which was neatly tucked behind his kit.

Next up was the title track and then “Cirkus” from 1970’s Lizard album. Jakko Jakszyk did a wonderful job interpreting the poetic, lyrical gymnastics of “Cirkus,” as the band performed a riveting version, complete with beautiful flute solo from Mel Collins. “Lizard” was presented with a unique treatment, as were other Crimson gems like “Easy Money” and “The Letters,” each given new life as filtered through this multi-faceted, powerhouse band.

The first set closed with the wondrous (aforementioned) “Islands,” featuring an elegant saxophone solo from Collins, before the contrasting “Indiscipline” brought both heavy guitars and synth patterns, balanced off by more of Levin’s throbbing bass lines.

After a twenty-minute break, the second set opened with what the set list calls “Drums on outbreak of wonderment, joy & bliss arising.” As you can imagine, this segment featured the powerful and versatile drumming trio of Mastelotto, Harrison and Stacey. Almost effortlessly, their interweaving drum fills and intricate percussion flowed back and forth like a precision locomotive, yet somehow without stepping on each other’s toes throughout the furious process. It was truly a “mouth agape” moment, and one of the greatest live drumming demonstrations I have seen in my nearly 40 years of concert adventures.

The fan-favorite “Starless,” from the 1974 Red album, featured some great saxophone work from Collins, before the precise and intricately haunting instrumental “Discipline,” brought the attentive audience to a frenzy by song’s end. Then, several “newer era” Crimson songs such as “Radical Action II,” “Hell Hounds of Krim,” “Devil Dogs of Tessellation,” and “The Construktion of Light” all received appreciative response from the audience as the second set closed out.

The encore was in a word, spectacular, starting with an eerily resounding version of David Bowie’s classic “Heroes,” featuring Fripp's extended, drone-like riffs before the octet closed out the performance with (but, of course) the iconic “21st Century Schizoid Man,” which brought down the house! Speaking of which, throughout the night, the band masterfully managed to weave in every song (minus “I Talk to the Wind”) from the iconic, 1969 In the Court of the Crimson King album.

It is amazing that after nearly 50 years, King Crimson continues to make the music fresh, creating interesting new elements when re-‘construkting’ the complicated arrangements of their songs. The musicianship and discipline of this band is remarkable, displaying a cohesiveness that is rarely found in any band, never mind one that has been touring together for less than a year. I have to say, my only (slight) disappointment on the night was the omission of the powerful, instrumental bliss of “Red,” arguably my favorite Crimson song. A small price to pay, of course, for such an incredible evening of music. If you get the opportunity, see this band before Fripp and company ride off into the sunset.