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King Crimson at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Massey Hall

John Kelman By

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Part 1 | Part 2


An Evening with King Crimson
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Massey Hall
Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal / Non-Festival Event
Montréal, Canada / Toronto, Canada
July 3, 2017 / July 5, 2017

Having covered the reunited, refreshed and reinvigorated "seven-headed Beast of Crim" for two nights each in San Francisco in 2014 and, again, in Montréal in 2015, was there really a good reason to see the group again in 2017...and, to make it even more complicated, in order to catch two evenings, traveling 540Km from Montréal—where the performed as part of Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal—to Toronto?

In a word: yes. In more words: for many very, very good reasons.

First, the original, highly unconventional three-drummer front-line septet—featuring drummers Pat Mastelotto, Bill Rieflin (who also doubled on keyboards) and Gavin Harrison—alongside a back-line including reed-woodwind multi-instrumentalist Mel Collins, bassist/stick player/vocalist Tony Levin, guitarist/lead vocalist/flautist Jakko M. Jakszyk and only remaining member of the original formation that released the album that truly shook the rock world, In the Court of the Crimson King (Island, 1969), guitarist/keyboardist Robert Fripp—has now been dubbed the Double Quartet Formation with the addition of drummer/keyboardist Jeremy Stacey. Stacey already possessed an impressive résumé—ranging from jazzers like Tim Garland, Wayne Krantz, Jason Rebello and Tommy Smith to rock/pop stars including Joe Cocker, Noel Gallagher, Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton, not to mention progressive rock artists like the late Chris Squire, Steve Hackett and the Squire/Hackett collaboration, Squackett—when he was asked to sub for the (thankfully) temporarily ill Rieflen during the group's 2016 European dates.

Fripp was clear, when Rieflin was forced to step away for a period of time, that should the drummer/keyboardist recover, his membership in the band would remain open. Still, Stacey had so impressed the guitarist and group that the decision was made not to simply thank him and hand him his walking papers. Instead, rather than becoming a four drummer-led front-line, Stacey has remained as one of the band's three drummers (and, like Rieflin, when he was on drums, occasional keyboardist), returning with a considerably larger drum set than that used throughout the 2016 dates, where he mirrored Rieflin's more minimalist kit in order to maintain the percussion section's overall complexion and Harrison's existing but ever-evolving arrangements. With Stacey remaining, the returning Rieflin changed locales to the back-line, where he became the band's first-ever full-time keyboardist...but he also took, whether or not it was intentional, a central position, situated between Collins and Levin to his right, and Jakszyk and Fripp to his left.

Second, while it was already well-known that the group's repertoire was too big for any single performance to contain, the material available to Crimson's 2017 North American tour has become so large that not even two nights could include everything the band was capable of playing; and that's with the understanding that, barring occasional festival appearances where time was restricted (thankfully, not so in Montréal), its performances consistently approached the three-hour mark, including a twenty-minute intermission between its two sets and three encores.

Third, in addition to many of the compositions already being performed by the septet lineup on tours between 2014 and 2016—reaching as far back as In the Court of the Crimson King, as far forward as its (so far) 2003 studio swan song, The Power to Believe (Sanctuary), and with enough new material now (as Jakszyk explained at a FIJM press conference the day of its July 3 Montréal show) to fill a pre-CD length album of 40 minutes—Crimson's 2017 North American dates included a significant amount of older material made (as Fripp has often described of this band's interpretations) new again that has not been previously experienced by North American fans.

To be crystal clear: King Crimson 2014-2017 is unequivocally not a tribute band, a legacy band or any other of the epithets applied to so many bands from back in the day that have reformed in recent times to capitalize on the burgeoning progressive rock revival of the past couple of decades. In fact, Crimson sits alongside Van der Graaf Generator as, perhaps, one of but a few bands of such longevity to not only reinvigorate its older material with a fresh approach, but to add new material that, with its own distinctive personality, fits as comfortably and with as much strength as the music that made it famous in the first place. And while VdGG remains a thrilling live act that has, out of necessity, been forced to rearrange its material for the trio version that emerged following co-founder David Jackson's departure after its 2005 comeback album Present (Virgin/Charisma, 2005) and accompanying tour, Crimson's approach to much of its 40+ year-old material— barring those where the signatures are so prevalent as to demand greater literalism—is far, far freer.

Fourth, since 2014 the lineup has included a couple of Fripp-penned instrumentals from the three-decade "Adrian Belew" years—when the charismatic guitarist/vocalist was a key member of Crimson incarnations from Discipline (E.G., 1981) through to the brief 2008 swan song tour, with Gavin Harrison added to The Power to Believe quartet lineup, documented on the download-only Park West, Chicago, Illinois August 7, 2008 (DGM Live, 2008)—specifically the high octane "VROOOM/Coda: Marine 475," from the Double Trio's sole full-length studio album, THRAK (Virgin, 1995), and the Nuevo Metal of The Power to Believe's "Level Five" and lighter but far knottier title track to the same Double Duo's 1999 Virgin Records debut, The ConstruKction of Light.

Now, however, two surprising vocal additions to the Double Quartet Formation's repertoire have been culled from Crimson's '80s re-emergence as a radically reinvented group, with three studio albums of a significantly altered complexion when compared to any of its late '60s/'early-to-mid-'70s incarnations. But, of course, beyond an eight-piece group expanding upon this material in ways Crimson's original quartet and sextet simply could not, Jakszyk's vocal interpretations of both songs also represented a radical departure...but more about that later.
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