King Crimson: KCCC #38: Live in Philadelphia, PA August 26, 1996 (2008)
Following on the heels of the definitive The Collectable King Crimson Volume Three: Live at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 1996, Live in Philadelphia, PA August 26, 1996 (the 38th mail order-only King Crimson Collectors Club edition) is a touch anti-climactic. Despite a fine sounding board mix, it's not as sonically dynamic as Volume Three, nor is it as strong a performance as the Shepherd's Bush show, which came midway through the Crimson Double Trio's final tour of Europe and America. Volume Three may be the definitive Double Trio live performance for casual Crimson fans, but there's still plenty to recommend about Live in Philadelphia for unabashed Crimheads.
As ever, the Crimson Double Trio culled its set from a larger pool of material with certain consistencies, including the proto-nuevo metal of "Red," the elliptically grooving "Elephant Talk," the weighty stream-of-consciousness "Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream" and power-pop "Dinosaur." But this is the only officially released recording of the sextet playing the stylistically hybridized, wood drum-driven "Sheltering Sky," making it of clear interest to committed Crimson followers.
The instrumental delineation that made Volume Three such a revelation isn't quite as clear. This final (ever) performance of the Double Trio finds, as Crimson documenter and DGM Live website moderator/editor Sid Smith says, ..."a band that is undoubtedly tired and feeling the strains of such intensive energy-consuming dates." Adrian Belew whips through the beat poetry of "Indiscipline" faster, perhaps, than any live version on record, but it sure doesn't feel tired. Instead, there's a different kind of energy at play, of a group sprinting with last-minute energy to the finish line.
If there's a star of this show, it has to be Belew, who's particularly vicious during his solos on "Elephant Talk," the perennial "21st Century Schizoid Man" and relentless "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II." Drummer Pat Mastelotto, who didn't really get the chance to blossom in this incarnation as he would the Double Duo that went on to release The ConstruKction of Light (DGM Live, 2000) and more satisfying Power to Believe (Sanctuary, 2003), is more a foil to longstanding Crimson drummer Bill Bruford's precision grooves. Meanwhile, touch guitarist Trey Gunn doesn't stand out as much as the group's ineffable groove-meister, bassist/stick man Tony Levin. But they both add to the jagged density that was a differentiator of this line-up, as it reaches out for greater improvisational territory on the complex head-banger, "THRAK."
Despite being overshadowed at this show by Belew on the solo front, Robert Fripp has been at the core of the group's aesthetic since its inception 40 years ago. Members come and go, and each defines how a specific line-up will sound, but it's Fripp who turns every incarnation into Crimson. Live in Philadelphia may not be the Double Trio's best show, but it's still a fine one, and a worthwhile document for those who continue to follow this group's every move.
Track Listing: CD1: Conundrum; Thela Hun Ginjeet; Red; Dinosaur; One Time; VROOOM VROOOM; Waiting Man; Neurotica; Elephant Talk; Sheltering Sky. CD2: B'Boom; THRAK; Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream; Indiscipline; Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II; Prism; 21st Century Schizoid Man; VROOOM; Coda: Marine 475.
Personnel: Adrian Belew: guitar, voice; Robert Fripp: guitar, soundscapes; Trey Gunn: touch guitar; Tony Levin: basses, stick; Pat Mastelotto: acoustic and electronic drums, percussion; Bill Bruford: acoustic and electronic drums, percussion.