The Beacon Theatre
November 18, 2017
New York, NY
Review and photos by David Chiu
Good things come to those to wait. In my case, it was finally seeing King Crimson in New York City, after a missed opportunity to see them back in 2003 around the time of The Power to Believe album. A lot has changed for the band and its leader Robert Fripp since that period: the line-up has expanded to a total of eight musicians–including three drummers–and the setlist has incorporated a wider selection of the group’s back catalog. Those elements all added up to an explosive and dynamic performance at the Beacon Theatre this past Saturday, the second of a two-night stand in the Big Apple as part of the Radical Action tour.
How these musicians were presented on stage – saxophonist Mel Collins; bassist Tony Levin; keyboardist Chris Gibson; singer/guitarist Jakko Jaksyzk; and guitarist Fripp in the back; and drummers Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey, and Gavin Harrison in the front—resembled something of a big band from the ’40s and ’50s. But the music during the three-hour show was all progressive rock, as Crimson played the music spanning their nearly 50-year career. It was heartening to hear some of the band’s classic work from the late ’60s and ’70s in 2017 when Crimson’s modus operundi is usually looking forward, not back: “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II,” “Epitaph,” and even deeper cuts like “The Letters,” “Cirkus,” and Pictures of a City” from the not-so-popular period of the band’s lineups from 1970 to 1972.
The setlist also drew from the1980s-2000s Adrian Belew-era in “Neurotica,” “Indiscipline” and “Level Five.” To Fripp and the band’s credit, the show wasn’t a nostalgia trip as the tour was an opportunity to introduce more recent material. such as “Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind),” “Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row,” and “Hell Hounds of Krim.”
There were many highlights and poignant moments but the ones that stood out included performances of “Starless” (the lights on the band turned red, as a homage to the band’s 1974 masterpiece Red, which features the song); the beautiful if underrated ballad “Islands”; and the show’s final number, the rocking “21st Century Schizoid Man” from In the Court of the Crimson King. Of course, it would have been great had they been able to performed a few additional songs (among them “Red,” “One More Red Nightmare,” “Book of Saturdays,” “Ladies of the Road, “I Talk to the Wind” “Three of a Perfect Pair,” “Elephant Talk”) but the evening would have gone past three hours–though it seemed like fans would have more been than happy with that proposition.
All of the members were in fine form, which is why King Crimson is usually regarded as a musician’s band who usually set a high standard of excellence: from Collins’ soulful sax to Levin’s par excellence bass playing; to Jaksyk’s expressive and flexible singing; and of course Fripp’s distinctive blend of classical and jazz playing balancing between melodicism and distortion. But the three-drum lineup of Mastelotto, Stacey and Harrison kind of stole the show with their really mind-boggling and precise playing. It was like witnessing both a conversation in drums and mental telepathy among all three drummers. They unquestionably propelled the music to extraordinary heights.
Throughout its nearly 50 years, King Crimson seems to have made a career of defying expectations and trends but their stature of pushing the musical envelope and experimenting remains a constant, just like Fripp, the group’s only original member. That was more than evident by this eight-man lineup’s mind-blowing performance at the Beacon.
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
Pictures of a City
(“(c) The Battle of Glass… more )
Radical Action II
Hell Hounds of Krim
(Robert Fripp song)
(‘The Dream’ part only;… more )
The Court of the Crimson King
Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
21st Century Schizoid Man