Tag Archives: tony levin

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)

King Crimson Experiment with The Elements

KC_SignageThe progressive rock juggernaut King Crimson brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to The Warfield theater in San Francisco on October 3rd and 4th for two highly anticipated concerts, dubbed “The Elements.” These were epic events 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.

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 Bill Rieflin. Many of the cast have tenure in the band, others like Harrison, Rieflin, and Jakszyk are new or recently added. Only Jakszyk with Collins and other members of early versions of Crimson paid respect to their initial albums during their tenure in the group 21st Century Schizoid Band – touring around the turn of the millennia. Most of the early work has not seen the bright lights of a concert hall in decades. The set list for these “Elements” shows was spectacular.

KC_AlbumsTo the astonishment and delight of long time fans, Fripp agreed to include older tracks in the set list, beyond the three most commonly played during concerts from 1981 through 2008 (“Larks 1&2”, and “Red”). In contrast, no tracks from the 1980’s version of the band were played. Instead, depending on the night’s set list, the band played three or four pieces that came after 1990, and one or two from the Jakszyk/Fripp/Collins project A Scarcity of Miracles (2011). The night belonged to the early music, which included:

  • 21st Century Schizoid Man – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
  • Pictures of a City – In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)
  • Sailor’s Tale, The Letters – Islands (1971)
  • Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part One & Two, The Talking Drum – Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973)
  • Red, One More Red Nightmare, Starless – Red (1974)

These 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 and precision. In particular, the two cuts from Islands were awesome to behold live. “The Letters” tells the story of a woman who comes to learn of her husband’s affair via post from his lover.  Upon receipt the woman reacts:

As if a leper’s face
That tainted letter graced
The wife with choke-stone throat
Ran to the day with tear-blind eyes

KC_Oct4_BowAt the moment Jakszyk sings the last of that line, sax, guitar, drums, and all came crashing in to make a cacophony that sounds like anger, despair, and pain all wrapped into a sonic boom. Once the next verse arrives the quiet renaissance refrain begins again. Played live, these dynamics from the original record were massively amplified. The moment sums up how one could describe so much of Crimson’s work. 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.

Only the bows for photos!
Only the bows for photos!

The band looked energized and pleased to be delivering this material. Collins played aggressively and magnificently on winds – at times with him on the sax the band actually swings! Levin demonstrated his unparalleled capabilities on upright and electric basses and Chapman stick. Jakszyk sang beautifully on key, with controlled vibrato, and clear delivery – only “One More Red Nightmare” showing a bit of strain. The front line of three drummers worked miracles with the dense material, and before the final encore 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, “I’m in a different place in my life” and it shows in his playing and demeanor. In fact, almost the entire concert was played under plain white lights – only during the final track of the main set, Starless, did the lights slowly change to red, echoing the emotions brought from the intense “one note” guitar solo that builds to that masterful track’s resolve.

KC_ticketBoth shows were challenging, rewarding, and exceptionally well presented – an impressive achievement for this groundbreaking 45-year-old musical collective. Take a quiet moment to hope for more than this first 22-date tour from these artists.

Gabriel Without Frontiers

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 6.20.56 PMIn his new new biography, Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel, author Daryl Easlea manages to craft a definitive look at the man and his art. Peter’s life, music, performances, videos, productions, and charitable endeavors are covered in depth from the late 1960’s when forming Genesis up to today. The book is very well researched, as Daryl takes care to include frequent direct quotes from Peter, his band members, management, and friends.  I found his inclusion of remarks by key collaborators including Peter Hammill, Richard MacPhail, and Daniel Lanois particularly interesting and revealing.  These observations contain insights into not just Peter’s work, but his life, such that the reader really gets a sense of him as a person. One interesting angle I’d not known was his lasting but friendly rivalry with Tony Banks and it’s impact on their early work together.  Daryl’s skilled narrative and storytelling manages to breathe new life into every chapter as he explores Peter’s influences, his focus on quality work, and continued ability to innovate and entertain.

Many fans of Genesis and Peter’s work who have read some of this information or seen documentaries in the past, will still find new revelations here.  His formative years fronting Genesis are key to his development as an artist, and their work to many represents the golden age of progressive rock music.  These times are treated with an attention to detail and the author takes care to incorporate parts of the story that add clarity to that short period of time, including matters both serious and entertaining.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter exhausting those years, Peter’s early solo career is examined in a way that sheds light on his search for direction as a solo artist.  Every key development from 1977’s Car (as Daryl refers to Peter Gabriel 1) through to 1982’s Security is illuminated.  I learned new facts about this era even though this is a time in particular when I was old enough to be a devotee of every album release, concert, and news item about the man.  The rest of his career from his breakthrough, more commercial release So, to the Scratch My Back and New Blood Orchestra work is also well covered, along with his frequent charitable work.  Often videos and filmed live performances are given short shift – not here – for instance it was a pleasure to see someone hail the 2013 Live in Athens DVD release as a spectacular document of Peter playing live near the end of the So tour in 1987.

This is a truly wonderful biography of one of the most amazing artists of our time.  Highly recommended.