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Reassessing

King Crimson: The Great Deceiver (Live 1973-1974)

By Published: October 12, 2006
Robert Fripp / King Crimson Even two versions of "Fracture"—Fripp's most convoluted composition to date and still a challenge for aspiring guitarists—end up being different enough to justify inclusion. Despite the detailed structure of the song, the shades of color added by everyone—and the open-ended section that immediately precedes the propulsive final third—illustrates just how open-minded this group was, even with the most regimented material. The equally constructed but initially balladic "Starless" is given the same treatment, also on two versions. Fripp's introductory "one note" solo gives way to two very different approaches once the dynamics and energy pick up—including a sadly under-mixed electric piano solo from Cross on the June 30th show.

Bruford's decision to leave Yes couldn't have come at a more opportune time. The opportunity to work with Muir, if even only for a few months, opened up his mind to possibilities felt in his work to this day. While he had a ways to go in terms of loosening up as he has in recent years, the chance to play in a group that, unlike his old cohorts in Yes, didn't believe in faithful reproduction of the studio recordings night after night, gave him an opportunity to evolve rapidly. He also began playing a host of tuned and untuned percussion, and worked hand-in-glove with Wetton to create some of the most thunderous grooves ever heard.

Finesse and Wetton are two words that really don't belong together in a sentence. A powerful bassist, Wetton would, along with Bruford, ratchet up the volume so much that Cross was quite often drowned out completely. As an improviser Wetton didn't posses the same breadth of language that Fripp—or Cross—had, but he was able to lay down powerful grooves alongside Bruford, and knew enough to keep things simple when it was clear he was out of his league harmonically. He was able to sing while navigating Fripp's often knotty writing. Singing over mellotron-laden tunes like "Exiles" and "The Night Watch" may not have been difficult; singing over his syncopated bass line on the Mahavishnu-informed "The Great Deceiver" clearly was.

Why Cross—at a time when Jerry Goodman was having no problems getting heard in the closing-in-on-jet-plane-decibel-level Mahavishnu Orchestra—was often drowned out is a question that will likely never be satisfactorily answered. Certainly, while technology to amplify acoustic instruments has come a long way since then, there had to be a way to make it work for him—but it never did. Part of it may well have been his own reticence. This was, after all, his first major break, whereas his other band mates were far more experienced in the studio and on the road. Still, as much as the mix sometimes puts him at a disadvantage, Cross was a player who never got the cred he deserved. Lyrical at times, abstract and jagged at others, he was an inspired choice by Fripp at a time when it was clear the Crimson co-founder wanted to make a significant stylistic shift.

Even the mellotron-heavy tunes had a more aggressive stance. And so, while "Exiles," "The Night Watch" and "Starless" all have clear precedence in the King Crimson that released the groundbreaking In The Court Of The Crimson King (DGM, 1969), they also represent a move forward as well. And with Richard Palmer-James' more direct lyrics, this Crimson also moved farther away from the abstruse, flowery and sometimes downright psychedelic lyrics of previous lyricist Peter Sinfield.

While Fripp had already established an MO that looked forward more than it did back—this is the last version of Crimson that would regularly play the iconic "21st Century Schizoid Man" from the 1969 debut—The Great Deceiver is also a rare opportunity to hear Fripp's solo, "Peace-A Theme," and the blues-based "Cat Food," both from In The Wake Of Poseidon. Fripp may have been moving towards a more assertive edge with this version of Crimson, but "Peace-A Theme" proves (as does "Book Of Saturday" from Larks' Tongues In Aspic) that he was still capable of lyrical elegance and delicate grace.


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