King Crimson… Give em a Kiss?

The progressive rock juggernaut King Crimson brought their seven-man supersonic machine to the Fox Theater in Oakland, California September 5th and 6th 2019 for two highly anticipated concerts.  These were epic shows for anyone seeking a potent, diverse mix of prog, metal, jazz, and classical rock – at times structured, at times improvisational – but all bundled into a challenging mix delivered by this band of expert musicians. This latest tour stop was particularly compelling as we found the band focusing on its most mellow, romantic songs. Tears were shed, arms were raised to the ceiling. It was the best setlist I’ve ever seen the band deliver, and the best performance as well.

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The current Crimson lineup is a ensemble consisting of Robert Fripp (guitar, keys), Jakko Jakszyk (guitars/vocals), Tony Levin (bass), Mel Collins (saxophones/flutes), and up front, three drummers Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey. Before the series of concert tours Crimson has been staging for the last few years, the various collectives of the band have not played much of their early material, other than “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the title tracks to Red and Lark’s Tongues in Aspic. Therefore for instance most of the early songs from In The Court of the Crimson King (1969), Lizard (1970), and Islands (1971) have not seen the bright lights of a concert hall in decades.  The setlist for the shows over the last few years have been spectacular.

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The choices were inspired and balanced – instrumentals and vocals well represented.  On top of that, the band was able to reproduce and reinterpret these pieces with ferocity balanced with delicacy and precision.  In particular, the title track from Islands, the title track from In The Court of the Crimson King and the additional choice to include  “Moonchild” leading into “Epitaph” was awesome to behold live.  “Epitaph” is as relevant today as it was in 1969 when written:

Between the iron gates of fate
The seeds of time were sown

And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

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For this fan, the major moment of the show came when the band played “Cirkus including the Entry of the Chameleons” from Lizard.  Jakko’s vocals were clear and warm, yet with power during the stanzas when that was needed. Mel Collins included the crunchy bass sax, a flute solo (one of many that night) and various other wind interludes. Part time middle drummer Jeremy Stacey spent much of his time on keyboards, which made for a much richer sonic landscape than I’ve ever heard.  Tony Levin held every down with his fantastic skill on the Chapman Stick.

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Fripp’s compositions alternate suddenly between dark and light.  A typical track will contain segments of distorted, dissonant but rhythmic sound creating almost unbearable tension and finally resolve to a peaceful passage made up of quiet beautiful tones.  The black notes vs. the white – the sun and moon, the Larks’ tongue and the Aspic – all part of this yin and yang.  Both were on full display for these two shows. However, this time there was more of the melodic, softer, dare I say romantic version of King Crimson. Readers who know the tracks on the setlist above will see how many compositions selected for the first show are less allegro, more mellow and beautiful.

The front line of three drummers worked miracles with the material, and several times during the concert we were treated to a three-man drum solo where the skills of each were highlighted.  Robert, playing in the light finally, says in an interview video now a couple years old, “I’m in a different place in my life” and it continues to show in his playing and demeanor.  In fact, almost the entire concert was played under plain white lights – only during “Red” did the white lights slowly fade to red – a very effective bit of staging, at least for one song. The final tracks of the main set “Starless and “In the Court…” brought out intense emotions an this fan for one found it hard not to think of ex Crimson members now deceased, Greg Lake and John Wetton, while also absolutely loving every moment of Jakko’s well tuned vocals his fantastic skills as guitarist and his kind presence.

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The first of two nights was an overwhelmingly beautiful display of virtuosity – that fact alone is an amazing achievement for this groundbreaking 50-year-old musical collective.

The Set List:

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Live Photos © King Crimson – Live in Mexico

(no photos are allowed at King Crimson concerts until the bow)

Oingo Boingo Members Only

The members of the 80s band Oingo Boingo bounced into the Saratoga Mountain Winery last weekend on a freezing night with high winds, supported by The Tubes and Dramarama (though it was too cold to see that third act as the sun went down and winds blew fiercely).

They were in a phrase or two, flipping-fantastic and totally bitchin’!

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Oingo Boingo came on the scene in 1979 in the hazy sunny lands of Orange County and Los Angeles, where like a beacon of light in the USA, they shone far outside of London where a potent blend of punk and ska had taken hold. From the first album Only a Lad (1981) through the last Boingo (1994) Danny Elfman, principal composer, crazy orange-haired vocalist and guitar and gourd player stormed across stages mostly in the western US but across the land to thrill, scare and incite young audiences to dance, elbow and generally bash each other in sweaty mosh pits.

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Danny was a singular force in this group, and after he left having lost his “spirit” for the band they just dissolved – a horse without its head. Danny been penning movie soundtracks, the first ones of which were Weird Science (1985) and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) along with others that came before the band split, and were followed by a long series of popular successes – soundtracks for almost all of Tim Burton’s films and other directors. Eventually Danny came to his penultimate expression, the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), during which as avid musical/movie watchers know he beautifully sang such gems as “What’s This” and “Jack’s Lament.”

So perfectly suited to this work is Danny that he will not go back and redo Oingo Boingo shows (citing potential hearing loss and the fact he considers some of his early work silly), even if he plays “Dead Man’s Party” sometimes at the end of his performance of Nightmare (with cast) for which he brings out partner guitarist Steve Bartek, who it should be said produced the orchestrated scores for most of the Elfman penned film soundtracks as well.

Now so many years later, the band has reunited, sans Danny, but ready to show all and anyone how flipping incredible they were and are in concert. The show was stunning – all the hooks, horns, bass, drums and percussion were there (even if gourds were replaced by a synth patch/sequence on the Korg). They played once again with wild abandon, precision and spirit and rocked our not-so sweaty mosh pit.

But what of the missing Elf-man you say?  Well, in an era when older bands end up with “replacement” singers the Boingo is now no exception. Young turk Brendan McCreary actually inhabits Danny’s spectral presence. He sounds like Danny, yet with his own style, and perfect vibrato – less of a yell for the high notes and actually more of a singer. He bounces across the stage, crouches, and gesticulates in a way I actually loved as much if not sometimes more than Danny, simply because he is not vaguely sinister (!) and he is not stuck for half the time behind a guitar.

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The band who are left were there – trumpet (Brian Swartz) sax (Sam “Sluggo“ Phillips), drums (Johnny Vatos Hernandez), bass (Freddie Hernandez), guitar (Steve Bartek now joined by Mike Glendinning), keys (Carl Graves) alternate bassist (John Avila), percussion, trombone, accordion (Doug Lacy) all still fantastically talented and on display. Who do you want to be today and are you only a lad that wants to have wild sex in the working class? You know you do, so go go go to see them.

p.s. Fee Waybill of the Tubes is still crazy and knows what he wants from life, just like a white punk on dope. Fantastic opener and if as a headliner nears you, that too.