One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was recorded and is available for purchase: King Crimson at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on 20 November 2015.
I never thought I’d see them live. I’ve been listening to King Crimson for thirty-five years or so, since 92 CITI FM introduced me to rock back in Brandon, MB. They played the early Krim (“The Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” and such) and tracks from the new Discipline like “Indiscipline.” (CITI also played Zep, AC/DC, Sabs, Priest, Maiden, the Cars, “Beat It,” Squeeze, SRV, INXS, ABC, Men at Work, Marley: one could believe in the freedom of music.)
But the band has a complex history, and Fripp suspends them for years on end. Then one day last year I saw that a three-night stand was coming! My friend G (who’s been a fan as long as I have, and had seen seen them twice before—once was great and once was excellent, he said) and I went. Tickets were $180 each—the most I’ve ever paid for a show, but I had high hopes, and they were met and exceeded. It was worth every penny. We were both amazed.
In front are the three drummers: Pat Mastelotto at the far left, with both hands up; Bill Rieflin (who also played keyboards—going from the complex Krim drums to keyboards on classic songs like “Starless” and “The Court of the Crimson King” is an amazing feat) with his back turned; and Gavin Harrison with his face obscured by a cymbal. The way they arranged things for three drummers, with them sometimes passing riffs from one to the other, sometimes playing things in unison, was entrancing.
In the back row, on a riser, from left are Mel Collins holding a sax; Tony Levin; Jakko Jakszyk; and of course Robert Fripp, whose band it is, far right holding a camera and taking a photo of the crowd.
Fripp sat on a stool, stage left, never moving; I think he played the same guitar for the entire show. He’s taking a photo after the show was over, when we were all allowed to take photos. It was announced before the show started that no one was allowed to take photos or do any recordings while the show was on: when Tony got his camera out, we could get our camera out. This was a great rule. Instead of everyone holding up cameras, and all their neighbours being distracted, everyone watched the concert. Mass concentration. Wonderful focus. I’d like it if more bands did this.
The liner notes say:
What made this show even more remarkable were the unfortunate events of the night before—when the band didn’t return for an encore after a concert that was plagued with audience photography from a tiny but repeatedly disruptive minority, making those of us involved with the band fear for the first time that it might cease to exist. In the online comments after the show, several people suggested that refusing to play an encore was an act of petulance. An alternative view might be that surviving until then end of the formal performance was an act of admirable retraint.
I thank Fate and Euterpe we were there the night we were, not the night before.
The set list included some songs neither of us knew (some of them improvisations, I guess), some we recognized but couldn’t identify, and some where we were elbowing each other saying “Hey, can you believe it?” After an opening jam they moved into “Larks Tongues in Aspic Part I” where Mel Collins on flute took a solo and worked in Moe Koffman’s “Swinging Shepherd Blues” and “O Canada.” I’ve never heard a visiting player pay so much respect to local music. Later they got into “Red,” “Starless” (what the end of the universe will sound like), and for the encore “The Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man,” which both of us never thought we’d get to hear live.
G and I both had high hopes for the show. It was far, far better than either of us had hoped for. We grabbed drinks after and spent over an hour telling ourselves, in many different ways, what a fantastic show it was. If you ever liked Krim, have a listen. If you do listen, remember that one of those people in the audience shouting and cheering and applauding is me.