King Crimson at Budweiser Stage & Théâtre St-Denis

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
King Crimson
2019 Celebration Tour
Budweiser Stage, Toronto, Canada
Théâtre St-Denis, Montréal, Canada
September 14 & 17, 2019

After covering six shows including two 2014 dates in San Francisco, another two 2015 shows in Montréal, and single, back-to-back 2017 performances in Montréal and Toronto, perhaps the biggest question is:

Why return to Toronto and Montréal in 2019 for two live concerts during King Crimson's 50th Anniversary, globe-trotting, 2019 Celebration Tour that will, when all is said and done, cover 48 dates in 34 cities across three continents?

Why Keep Going to Crimson Shows?

There's a simple answer...and a far more complicated one.

First, the simple response: this is a rare, truly legendary, genre-defying and constantly evolving band that, in its infancy, helped spawn a new musical genre (progressive rock) but has since gone on to transcend that limited and more restrictive definition. By developing a repertoire which, spanning almost its entire studio discography and including an increasing number of new compositions, King Crimson has truly reinvented itself for the second decade of the 21st century.

But the fuller, more complex answer?

King Crimson's seven-piece configuration first came together in 2013, subsequently testing the waters with a brief 19-date, nine-city, 2014 US tour. The group expanded to eight when original drummer/keyboardist Bill Rieflin was repositioned, following a brief absence for truly unfortunate personal reasons, as King Crimson's first full-time keyboardist in order to retain replacement drummer/keyboardist Jeremy Stacey. The 2019 lineup is back to seven, sadly due to another Rieflin absence, the result of an even more tragic personal circumstance. But whether seven or eight, this expanded Crimson has been the first lineup ever capable of bringing music from across the band's entire career into the 21st century in a most innovative and refreshed fashion, in addition to penning an ever-growing repertoire of newly minted material, some featuring the full band, others scored solely to feature the group's three-drummer front line percussion section.

Amidst its 2019 lineup is the only remaining original and ever-present band co-founder, guitarist/keyboardist Robert Fripp, who, following the dissolution of the quintet responsible for a debut that changed the shape of music forever, In the Court of the Crimson King (Island, 1969), always remained the band's de facto leader (despite asserting otherwise), but has now more decidedly assumed the role. That said, Fripp's egalitarian nature when it comes to writing, arranging and performing King Crimson's music has always been an important factor in how it's various incarnations have functioned.

Alongside Fripp, five sometimes on-again/off-again, largely long-standing Crimson contributors (now dating as far back as 49 to just a decade) have proven themselves essential to the current group's creative successes: saxophonist/flautist (and, now, very occasional keyboardist) Mel Collins, who first appeared with the group in 1970; bassist/stick player Tony Levin, joining King Crimson in 1980 for its game-changing '80s incarnation; electro/acoustic drummer Pat Mastelotto, who commenced his Crimson tenure with its mid-'90s, Double Trio configuration; drummer (also electro-acoustic) Gavin Harrison, first teaming with Mastelotto in the band's extremely short-lived, 2008 twin-drummer/twin guitarist quintet lineup; and, most recently, guitarist/vocalist (and occasional flautist/keyboardist) Jakko M. Jakszyk, first sharing the bill with Fripp and Collins on the "King Crimson ProjeKct" studio date A Scarcity of Miracles (Panegyric, 2011), but who first became Crimson-affiliated as a member of the 21st Century Schizoid Band, a tribute band otherwise featuring a number of past, '70s-era Crimson members (barring Fripp, but with his acknowledgement and support).

Drummer/keyboardist Jeremy Stacey is, in fact, the only King Crimson member completely new to its post-2013 lineup, currently wrapping up his third year with the band.

The current Crimson, now in its seventh official incarnation (though there have been other lineups featured on studio albums or during brief tours), sports a massive repertoire of roughly 60 songs, including nearly twenty new compositions or regular improvisational features, with five scored pieces solely shining a spotlight on the group's three-drummer front line. The remaining forty are culled from across the group's entire (largely studio) discography, barring, at the moment at least, just one album, Three of a Perfect Pair (Editions E.G., 1984). A small number of songs are drawn from other sources, including Fripp's (first) post-Crim solo album, Exposure (Editions E.G., 1979); A Scarcity of Miracles; even a song that first appeared on David Bowie's "Heroes" (RCA, 1977), and which featured one of Fripp's most memorable extracurricular guitar solos.

But there's an unfortunate truth that began with the current incarnation's first tour, back in 2014: catching just one of King Crimson's 2014 performances means coming nowhere close to catching its entire repertoire. In 2014, attending two shows generally assured hearing everything in the current repertoire. With Fripp putting each night's set list together around six hours before the band hits the stage, by the time the group returned to North America in 2015, even two shows wasn't necessarily enough to hear everything, but it was still possible to experience the lion's share of what the group had in its repertoire.

By 2016, even three of the group's roughly three-hour concerts (including a twenty-minute intermission) weren't enough to ensure hearing everything in the group's expanding reserve of material. Now, in 2019, with set lists that usually include roughly twenty songs, but with repetition of a subset of pieces included virtually every night, it's now simply impossible to capture its full repertoire, period, unless possessing the time and money to catch an entire tour or, at the very least, a great many shows. And with songs regularly dropping off or back into a particular tour's repertoire, even that really isn't enough to hear all of the group's roughly 60-strong reservoir of material.

Still, two performances will usually ensure hearing most (but, still, not necessarily all) of the material that the band has added to its repertoire since the last tour in the vicinity, and the back-to-back shows at Toronto's Budweiser Stage (a 7,000-seat outdoor amphitheater (and which can, with additional seating and a large grass lawn, accommodate as many as 16,000 people) and Montréal's nearly 3,000-seat Théâtre St-Denis were no exception.

Between the two shows, a whopping seven songs from the group's back catalog were performed for the first time in Canada (ten, really, if counting Levin, Fripp and Stacey's freely improvised "Cadenzas" following In the Court of the Crimson King's "Moonchild"). Add the 2013+ original, "Suitable Grounds for the Blues," returning to the set list after being dropped in 2017 but last heard in Toronto and Montréal (on only one night each) in 2015, before returning in 2018 with a new piano intro from Stacey, and there was certainly plenty of new material to appeal to even the most ardent King Crimson follower.

Changes for the 2019 Tour

There have been a number of changes with King Crimson 2019, all largely positive and intended to suit Fripp's objective, explained during a media day in London, England last April: "My primary interest is to introduce King Crimson to innocent ears, that is, to audiences who have never before seen King Crimson live." The band still travels in a most civilized fashion, its rare (certainly in the rock world) practice of not playing on travel days remaining intact and ensuring that the usual routine of travel, set up/sound check, play, tear down and catch a few hours sleep before beginning the starting the cycle once again (and with only occasional days off) does not define how this band tours. The group is still playing, but in relatively fewer instances, multiple shows in the same city/venue—largely in Europe, but also in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oakland, Buenos Aires and Santiago. Still, its initial habit of always playing two or more nights in each city and venue, a defining philosophy for its 2014-2016 tours, was broken, at least in some cities, in 2017 when, for example, it performed for just one night at Toronto's 2,750-capacity Massey Hall, alongside its single evening at Montreal's 3,000-seat Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.

Crimson may be playing largely one night in each city but, and even when playing multiple nights in the same town, it's more often than not at a considerably larger venue. In 2018, the group performed two nights at the 2,300-seat London Palladium, but a year later it not only set up in the same British city's Royal Albert Hall, but sold out all three nights in the 5,300-seat venue. The band sold out two nights at New York City's 2,900-seat Beacon Theatre, but this year it has sold out a single night at the 6,000+ Radio City Music Hall. And if Crimson sold out Toronto's Massey Hall in 2017, this year it came close to filling the 7,000 capacity configuration at the Budweiser Stage, a venue more than double the size.

As many "legacy" bands are fortunate enough to be able to maintain the same capacities for their "return" tours, King Crimson's audience is clearly growing, and significantly so. Perhaps the biggest reason is that, despite the assertion of some who are operating with misconceptions and misinterpretations of its touring lineups since 2014, King Crimson is greatly distanced from other bands with lengthy lifespans who, in the 21st century, are generally satisfying their audiences by replicating (as best as possible, since the lineups rarely feature more than a couple of original members) music from its glory days. These bands may occasionally record new studio albums, but their set lists are almost always dominated by music from their "classic" era, with occasional exceptions like Van der Graaf Generator, whose new music easily stands up with its best from the 1970s, and so its live sets are, not unlike King Crimson, a balanced cross-section of material old and new.

But groups like Van der Graaf Generator are the exception rather than the rule and, even so, still return to the recording studio to record and release new music. King Crimson, on the other hand, hasn't set foot in a studio since the sessions for The Power to Believe (Sanctuary, 2003)—recently collected in the 17-CD/2-DVD/4-Blu Ray, decade-spanning Heaven & Earth: Live And In The Studio 1997-2008 box set.

That hasn't, however, stopped the band from introducing new material on every live recording released (on Panegyric Recordings) since it returned to active touring duty in 2014, beginning with 2015's Live In Toronto: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, November 20, 2015 and audio/video box, Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind), 2017's Official Bootleg: Live In Chicago, June 28th, 2017, through to 2018's Live In Vienna, December 1st, 2016 (UK Edition) and second audio/video box, Meltdown (Live In Mexico City).

With the current King Crimson incarnation demonstrating, even more than any that came before, how its studio albums are, in Fripp's words, "love letters" while its live performances are "hot dates," it raises an important question:

Why—other than the possibility of better separation, the ability to "punch in" and fix mistakes, and the capability of overdubbing additional layers of instruments and/or vocals—would anyone want a love letter when so many hot dates are being released on a regular basis?

Certainly on its live albums, ranging from more fully produced live albums like Live at the Orpheum to "warts and all" soundboards like Official Bootleg: Live In Chicago, June 28th, 2017, separation doesn't appear to be a problem; and truthfully, if anything, a little leakage can often actually fatten up the sound.

As for fixing mistakes? Technology now makes it possible, in the rare instance of a proper and unacceptable error (of which there are precious few), to fly a fragment from one live recording's multi-track into another. The result? Whether soloing, interpreting or collectively extemporizing, King Crimson is an improvising band and, just like the best jazz groups, mistakes often lead to magic and so replacing them would often destroy the transcendence of the moment.

And as for additional overdubs? With seven members able to deliver up to four keyboards at once, with two guitars, three well (and differently) outfitted drummers (including the ability to deliver pre-recorded samples), a reed/woodwind player with four saxophones and three flutes in his arsenal, a bassist who, in addition to fretted electric bass, also adds Chapman Stick and electric upright bass when the need arises, and two singers making harmony vocals possible, this is the very first incarnation of King Crimson capable of delivering music from all of its studio albums with so many of the layers that appeared on the original studio versions (and much, much more) that were never before possible in live performance. So it's hard to imagine the need to add anything further.

All of which means that King Crimson's 2019 Celebration tour, like previous tours since 2014, is simply not to be missed. This is a band that not only delivers each and every night and, in addition to building a different story each and every night with its changing set lists, provides a real window into how its music can be transformed and made fresh again every time it is played.

With 2019 breaking the habit of past years, where the band played the Americas, Europe and Asia but never all of them in a single year, the Celebration Tour is hitting both Europe and the Americas. In addition to returning to some popular repeat cities, bringing the band towns in which it's never before appeared makes 2019 an opportunity for the widest audience possible, including fans old and new, young and old, male and female, to experience this incarnation of King Crimson re-imagine old music as new once again.

The Royal/Celebration Package: What Does It Mean?

In the past decade or so, many groups that hit the road have introduced some kind of "VIP Package," where fans can pay extra money ranging from a couple hundred dollars to, in some cases, a great deal more, to include premium seating and a bevy of other "added value items" to the concert experience.

American rock band Incubus offers an "Ultimate VIP ON Stage Upgrade" Package that, for a paltry $750 (USD), allows participants to watch the band's set from the side of the stage, utilizing the MIXhalo studio quality audio experience; get an "intimate" backstage tour before the doors open to the general public; attend a pre-show Incubus jam session; receive a limited edition, signed VIP poster, free drink, exclusive VIP member-only merchandise item, souvenir VIP laminate and lanyard; have an opportunity to shop from the merchandise table at greater leisure before it's open to the general public; and be accompanied by an on site VIP host. This does not include the cost of a ticket, ranging (in one city) from $55-$650.

For Celine Dion's current tour, a mere $3,500 gets you, along with that "Incredible Top Price Reserved Floor Ticket in the front row: an "ULTRA—Exclusive, Limited Edition Tour Lithograph Based Upon Original Tour Artwork & Designed Especially for VIPs"; Essential Celine Dion VIP Merchandise; and One Special VIP Tour Gift (Created Exclusively for Package Purchasers).

For the bargain price of just $2,250, you can: see Ozzy Osbourne in one of the first two rows in the front three sections of the arena; get a personal photo with the singer; gain access to the Ozzy Osbourne Soundcheck Experience; go behind the scenes and ask "ANYTHING" at a very intimate Q&A with Osbourne in his dressing room; gain access to a VIP pre-show reception with appetizers, beer, wine and soft drinks; receive an assigned VIP parking spot; get a collectible 2019 Ozzy Osbourne VIP gift item; receive an official Ozzy Osbourne meet and greet laminate and backstage dressing room wristband; access to fast pass merchandise shipping; and an on site VIP Host.

A couple of years back, when longtime Crimson producer David Singleton ("the ninth man") took over the role of group manager, the band also introduced its own VIP Package, appropriately called "The Royal Package." The price, roughly $350 USD, may not possess some of the flashier offers of other VIP Packages, but the relatively modestly priced Crimson Royal Package (for 2019, renamed the "Celebration Package") allows DGM to do "what it can to combat ticketing scams, online ticket agencies with knockbacks to promoters, spurious VIP packages, dud merchandising et al. And that's before we get to recorded music. Most of this behavior is "not illegal," just wrong, exploitative and profoundly unethical," as the band's site notes.

Instead, the Celebration Package caters to fans who want the opportunity to hear from (and ask questions of) band members (including Singleton). It's much more intimate and informative experience that also includes: seating in the first five rows; an "Exclusive Crimson Celebration Tote Bag," made of cloth, that contains properly useful items that have varied from tour to tour, along with a VIP laminate and lanyard; and a chance to leisurely shop the merchandise table before the doors are opened, all hosted by DGM Executive Assistant Iona Singleton.

The current Crimson Celebration Tote Bag includes, in addition to the laminate/lanyard: a tour program signed by everyone in the group; the King Crimson 50 multiple CD set, currently containing the first 26 of King Crimson's weekly rarity tracks and Singleton commentaries that are being made available to hear or buy as downloads at the DGM Live website, one per week, each week during the group's 50th Anniversary year; and a copy of The Vicar Chronicles: Chronicle the First + 2nd, described as "The Adventures of the legendary Music Producer. THE VICAR, as scribbled by his assistant, Punk Sanderson"—in other words, a fictional account, based on real experiences, written by David Singleton (and there are two more to come).

Celebration Package purchasers are assigned seats in the first few rows of the venue, and the number of participants is strictly limited to roughly fifty people per night.

But swag aside, the real gold of the Celebration Package in Montréal was a roughly hour-long combination of speech and Q&A from not just David Singleton and Pat Mastelotto, but Robert Fripp as well. Fripp's appearance (not announced as part of the package on the DGM site) was beyond an extremely pleasant surprise, considering how private he has typically been.

First coming onstage and welcoming Celebration Package attendees, Fripp delivered a short speech where he tried to articulate where music comes from, He then polled the audience, asking how many believe that music can change the world? From there, his segment morphed into a discussion of those and other topics, but in particular the assertion that the performance space is sacred; a zone between the inside and outside, and demarcated by the musical bell scapes that "welcome you and are different each night, generated around 17:50 each evening."

Fripp talked a bit about his family (his sister, Patricia, happened to be in the audience, after last seeing her in San Francisco) and their penchant for action movies with, amongst others, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal. This might come as a surprise to those who think of Fripp as a highly cerebral man but, as would be expected, his reasons for liking such films make total sense, and align with philosophies he's long espoused. "What do I like," Fripp queried. "Implausibility in the plot; how do a preposterous series of events hang together?"

But, far more importantly, Fripp continued: "After 52 years [in the music industry], I love to see justice delivered [no real surprise from a man who spent a tremendous sum of money and fought record industry norms to be able to reacquire the rights to his music and the music created by all members of King Crimson, past and present]. I think there is some justice in the world...but not enough."

Fripp went on to deliver his "six principles of performance," including (in abbreviated and slightly paraphrased form):

1. When people get together, something can happen, but if we're not here nothing can happen. Things happen that otherwise could not;
2. With music, something remarkable can happen;
3. Each performance is unique;
4. Each performance is a multiplicity of performances; diversity in unity, unity in diversity;
5. The possible is possible because it must be, but in some cases the impossible is possible (Fripp referred to a rain washout in Italy this year, and how, in 1982, a crew in Rome couldn't build a stage despite being given instructions and three months' notice);
6. The impossible is possible, and this is the interesting area, as unless we experience this fairly regularly (but not frequently) we might not accept this. The impossible has to be possible...or life is a Chuck Norris movie.

"There is a seventh," Fripp concluded, "and it resides inside of us and nothing is spoken. Music comes from love, that's the beginning." He also ended with his sister's motto: "take charge of your life."

After Fripp's roughly 15-minute appearance, David Singleton took over. He explained how, three years back, he became manager when the previous one was fired. Singleton has since introduced, in collaboration with Fripp, a number of significant changes to how the band tours, the Royal/Celebration Package being one of them. The pair looked at existing VIP packages and decided that most were rip-offs, so they decided upon a package that is, in relative terms, reasonably priced. Still, when it comes to profitability, Singleton explained that roughly a third comes from ticket sales, a third from the VIP Package and a third from merchandise.

What Singleton and Fripp have accomplished, and this is a true rarity in the music world, is to make touring both a profitable and civilized experience for the entire touring entourage.

Not playing on travel days means that everyone—from band members to instrument technicians, front-of-house and monitor engineers, and everyone else involved in making large tours like Crimson's work—is more rested and in a better position to do what they do the very best they can do it. It costs no small amount of extra money to do this, but Singleton and Fripp have not only proven that it's worth it, but that it can be done while still generating enough revenue to make the tour profitable, so that everyone can be paid a fair wage.

Singleton also discussed the 52 rarity tracks being released, one each week, and how, when on tour, he literally does the next week's commentary and, while he now has a small list of those to come, originally selected the tracks to be included at the same time. An example: a recent instalment containing the title track to The ConstruKction of Light, whose recent reissue as The ReConstruKction of Light, with new drum parts added and the whole thing remixed by Mastelotto and Don Gunn, had two vocal lines at the end of the second part that had originally been edited out...but were now restored.

Singleton went on to discuss his role as The Vicar and how (alongside the book recently published and two more instalments to come) a fictional story by a fictitious character about a non-existent music producer's experiences might lead to a fictional album by The Vicar, and how a surprising number of people have said "yes" to perform on an album by the non-existent person.

He then took some questions, the first being: what is left in the vaults? Singleton's first response was to joke that Crimson's vaults are "more like vats"; a disorganized collection where things are suddenly found, like the famous Blue Tapes—reel-to-reel tapes recorded on tour during 1973-74 and ultimately included, warts and all, in the Starless (Panegyric, 2014) box set. Apparently they thought they had tapes of the shows, but given then-bassist/vocalist John Wetton's legendary volume, and Fripp turning up in order to hear himself, those tapes largely contained vocals and drums (also, likely, David Cross' violin parts as well). The engineers making the recordings also, apparently, had a nasty habit of rolling the tape after a song began, and either stopping it or running out of tape before another song ended. But with modern technology making more things possible, it became possible to separate and restore the entire band's tracks and create the fine-sounding results on Starless.

Singleton referred to unexpected moments, like when someone gave him a cassette recording of a 1972 Newcastle performance, a couple of years ago, by the original Larks' Tongues in Aspic quintet with percussionist Muir. Subsequently restored and released earlier this year as Live In Newcastle, December 8, 1972 (DGM Live, 2019), it has become one of the (if not the) best-sounding of the relatively few live documents from this seminal Crimson lineup.

Singleton also discussed the peril of band members playing with the knowledge that they are being recorded, as they are every night in both audio and seven-camera video. Crimson is not the first group to talk about how the knowledge of being recorded changes how its members play: guitarist Pat Metheny has often discussed how knowing he's being recorded makes him take fewer risks and, instead, play it safe. And so, to try and resolve this, the knowledge that only one song per show (determined after the show) will be made available to the public (beyond later going through all the recordings to look for performances to release in part or entirety) creates an environment that does not stifle the risk-taking that remains such a key part of every King Crimson performance.

Singleton also discussed how, in 2015 in Japan, the band moved beyond likes and dislikes and became a real band. The various presences and absences of Bill Rieflin have also contributed to a band that must keep changing and moving forward.

Mastelotto than came and leaned against the edge of the stage, talking about a number of subjects and answering a multitude of questions, including his work on The ReConstruKction of Light. Like Singleton, Mastelotto was easygoing and forthcoming with his answers, and the only unfortunate thing was that there simply wasn't enough time to answer everyone's questions, which kept on coming until Singleton was informed that it was just about time to open the doors to the general public. Still, there was enough time to visit the merchandise desk to pick up a jacket, a tour box or other items, before the doors opened.

The "glitzy" aspects of some artists' VIP Packages may have been absent, but it's unlikely that any participating in the Celebration Package at Montréal's Théâtre St-Denis would have any complaints. Few, if any, similar packages (especially at such a reasonable price) provide the opportunity to spend nearly an hour with the band's leader, alongside its manager/producer, and a band member that changes from show to show, to get an intimate view of the inner workings and philosophies that drive the band, not to mention the opportunity to get answers to their individual questions. There's also the knowledge that the 50 Royal Package attendees in Montréal have helped the group to continue touring in a fashion that ensures far better chances to make the impossible possible, and deliver not just consistently great performances but, on occasion, truly transcendent ones.

The Performances

Both shows shared much material in common, including a whopping five songs from the group's back catalog (six, in Montréal) that were new to post-2014 Canadian set lists; one song new to 2013+ Crimson but returned to the repertoire after its 2017 absence ("Suitable Grounds for the Blues," but with the addition of Stacey's darkly free solo piano introduction); one brand new drum trio ("Drumzilla") that opened the second set in both cities; and three new freely improvised cadenzas (from Levin, Fripp and Stacey), following one of the Canadian tour's new songs, In the Court of the Crimson King's gentle ballad, "Moonchild."

The two shows, each clocking in at about three hours and each with two sets broken up by a twenty minute intermission, featured an additional eleven songs in common that have been heard before—though one, In the Court of the Crimson King's title track, now includes the two-minute coda that has, until now, been omitted. Still, 2017's alternatively fiercely swinging and backbeat-driven funk rework of "Neurotica," from Beat (Editions E.G., 1982), only appeared in the Toronto set list, along with the nightmarish, mellotron-heavy "Cirkus," from Lizard (Island, 1970), while only Montréal fans were treated to "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One," from Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Island, 1973)—a shortened version that still retained all of its sections, albeit considerably abbreviated in parts—and the dark-hued "Dawn Song," from Lizard's second side-long title suite, which acted as a surprisingly effective introduction to The ConstruKction of Light's thunderous "Larks' Tongues in Aspic—Part IV," one of the new additions to both cities' set lists.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from both shows was how, despite King Crimson shifting musical gears virtually every time it returned to active duty with (at the time) albums like In the Court of the Crimson King seeming to share little in common with Starless and Bible Black (Island, 1974), even less with Three of a Perfect Pair (Editions E.G., 1984), and even less still with The Power to Believe (Sanctuary, 2003). Still. taken as a whole, and with shifting set lists that often place music recorded decades apart back-to-back, it becomes clear just how strong and clearly defined the thread is that has run through King Crimson, from its first appearance in 1969 to its most recent shows.

"Dawn Song" may have, in its original recording, seemed to share nothing in common with "Larks' Tongues in Aspic—Part IV," with a full three decades between them, completely different lineups, different instrumentation and different approaches; and yet, taken together, as they were in Montréal, they absolutely felt part of the totality that is King Crimson . As did the expanded/extended blues of In the Wake of Poseidon's "Cat Food, and The Power the Believe's in turns chamber-like, rapid-fire and viscerally propulsive "Elektrik," as performed back-to-back in Toronto.

As ever, King Crimson was all about the music, with no front man, and no single band member featured any more or less than any other, though there were/plenty of opportunities to focus on one or more of the musicians. Barring a blue backdrop and lighting that remained one revealing color for the entire show—until, that is, during "Starless," when the stage was, relatively briefly, awash in vivid red—there was nothing to distract the eye from the individual performers...except the individual performances themselves. When the three drummers were going full tilt, it was hard not to find the eye moving left to right and right to left, to try and capture what Mastelotto, Stacey and Harrison were doing, both collectively and individually. It was also difficult for the eye not to wander from Collins across to Fripp, and then from Levin to Jakszyk; unless someone was soloing, there was simply so much going on that there was a relentless urge to try and capture everything that was going on at any individual moment...an exercise In futility with this band, if ever there was one.

Some of the material new to Canadian set lists has been available on live recordings; still, even a "hot date" live recording is a different experience to actually being there in the moment. The Jakszyk/Harrison-penned intro to the group's revision of Discipline's "Frame By Frame," played only in Montréal, rendered the song nearly unrecognizable at first (though it retained many of its core elements), but when the entire group entered, with Jakszyk's crisp, crunchy chords interacting with Fripp's light-speed lines, all was both crystal clear and, somehow, bigger, even as the band moved to the song's interlocking, gamelan-inspired and guitar-driven section, with Jakszyk (and Levin) delivering Adrian Belew's repeated lines: "Frame by frame (Suddenly) / Death by drowning (from within) / In your, in your analysis / Step by step (Suddenly) / Doubt by numbers (from within) / In your, in your analysis."

Speaking of lyrics, Larks' Tongues in Aspic's "Easy Money" has gradually become a highlight of virtually every show, with Jakszyk's evolving wordless vocal improvs now combined with a solo section that demonstrated his equal strength as a guitarist. But it's now become an even more timely and topical song, with the original lyrics largely revised by Jakszyk. In particular, the second verse, sung in live performance by the 1973/74 band, always felt a little cringe-worthy but is now completely gone ("Well I argued with the judge / but the bastard wouldn't budge / 'Cause they caught me licking fudge / And they never told me once you were a minor"), replaced with:

Rogue investors on the street
Born corrupt and indiscreet
Slowly turning up the heat
As you crucify both winners and losers

With the banks about to break
As you double up the stake
With your fingers all a shake
We could never tell a winner from a snake

Easy money

Wear a smug look on your face
With a fix at every race
Throw your weight around the place
Bribe the conscience of your foes and defenders

You can take the money home
Build your dynasty a throne
Recreate another Rome
For a price we could appease the Almighty

Easy money

Rogue investors on the street
Born corrupt and indiscreet
Slowly turning up the heat
As you crucify both winners and losers

There's no guilt when you leave a scar
Just as long as you're where you are
Cheat and lie and you'll get far
Getting fat on your lucky star

Just making easy money.

"Easy Money" was just one example of how the entire group has evolved and coalesced into a remarkable multi-limbed whole that is, indeed, far, far greater than the sum of its parts, echoing Fripp's "diversity in unity, unity in diversity" comment from the Montréal Celebration Package discussion.

The band proved even more capable of broad dynamics and stylistic cross-pollinations, delivering remarkable subtleties with "Moonchild" where, in addition to Levin's electric upright solo never losing sight of the tune's heart and Stacey's piano feature taking even greater liberties, Fripp's delay/loop-driven cadenza was a soft and subdued high point of each evening.

By contrast, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic—Part IV" truly put the pedal to the metal, morphing from Nuovo Metal to an equally high octane but more orchestral piece of epic proportions. On this extended instrumental, Collins contributed supporting lines on baritone saxophone as Jakszyk and Fripp engaged in some effective guitar hockets and rhythmically interchanging chordal injections, but later soared over the controlled maelstrom with surprisingly effective flute lines. In the middle section, Fripp's mind-bogglingly fast lines were bolstered by three drummers, each contributing completely different rhythmic perspectives, whether it was Stacey's near-impossible rapid mirroring of Fripp, Harrison's off-kilter backbeat or Mastelotto's absolutely unpredictable percussive injections.

In both cities, the pastoral and, towards its conclusion, near-anthemic title track to Islands ranged from a vocal feature for Jakszyk, to a soprano saxophone highlight for Collins, and a reminder of just how close to jazz Fripp could sometimes veer with his warm accompaniment early on, before switching to oboe keyboard samples. On both evenings, as the song approached its end, Jakszyk also briefly turned to a newly acquired (and, apparently, difficult to find) Gibson arch top hollow body electric that looked like an ES-335—possessing that thin-line model's dual cutaway, but with a considerably deeper body that more closely resembled the single cutaway ES-175.

Still, preceded in Toronto by "Moonchild" and followed by "Cat Food," "Islands" demonstrated just how different set list positioning can render a piece. As part of a brief series of early and, largely gentler Crimson songs in Toronto, it assumed an entirely different complexion in Montréal, sandwiched between the crunching "Larks Tongues in Aspic—Part IV" and angular "Indiscipline."

"Indiscipline" remains one of the current group's most significantly altered (and, by Belew fans, largely misunderstood and under-appreciated) vocal re-imaginings, with Jakszyk continuing to replace Belew's original near-spoken word with a sung melody doubled on the singer's usual custom PRS axe (with its front cover face from In the Court of the Crimson King), and with Levin singing backup harmonies. The introductory series of drum trade-offs seemed longer than ever before, but in the best way possible, as Mastelotto, Stacey and Harrison effortlessly blended form and freedom; it was but one example of how much more connected and energetic not just the drummers but the entire band were in both cities.

Post a comment




View events near Montreal
Jazz Near Montreal
Events Guide | Venue Guide | Get App | More...

Shop Amazon



All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.