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King Crimson at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Massey Hall

John Kelman By

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Two compositions from the often (and unfairly) overlooked Lizard (Island, 1970) were enough to engender eager anticipation from longtime Crimheads: the nightmare-inducing album-opener, "Cirkus," which was largely a consistent part of the Islands (Island, 1971) band's set lists back in the day, but which has never been performed live since; even more exciting, however, was the first-ever inclusion of the third movement from Lizard's side-long title suite: "The Battle of Glass Tears" (including "Dawn Song," "Last Skirmish" and the closing instrumental Fripp feature, the brooding "Prince Rupert's Lament"). Were these the only pieces added to the 2017 tour's potential set list (and both, so far, appear to be constants in every performance), North American fans would have been plenty satisfied. But that was not all; if fans had to deal with the absence of Islands' show-stopping "Sailor's Tale" in both cities, they could revel in the inclusion of another song that was played very occasionally during its original touring quartet's shows back in the day: the beautifully pastoral—and, in these turbulent times, particularly relevant—title track.

After a tacit understanding that there'd be no vocal tracks from the Belew years, it was especially surprising—and enticing—to discover what the Double Quartet Formation would do with two pieces culled from the '80s group recently collected on the 19-disc box set, On (and Off) The Road (Panegyric, 2016): Discipline's angular "Indiscipline" and, from the 1982 E.G. Records studio follow-up, Beat, the even more frenzied, beat poetry-inspired "Neurotica."

Finally, after performing three other songs from the '70s' final studio recording, Red (Island, 1974) and collected as part of the mammoth, 27-disc The Road to Red (Panegyric, 2013) box set on past tours beginning with its 2014 US return—the influential, instrumental title track; more song-based but still convention-busting "One More Red Nightmare"; and the lengthy piece that both closes the album and has wrapped most if not all Crimson main sets since 2014, "Starless"—the group has finally added the only other tune not previously played: the more balladic yet still powerful "Fallen Angel" (Red's only only other track, "Providence," was a completely free improv instrumental).

Performed on past tours but with Jakszyk singing Poseidon's "Peace: An End" in its entirety—on the live CD/DVD or CD/Blu Ray box set, Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind) (Panegyric, 2016), even singing the first verse in Japanese—Montréal fans were treated to a slightly reworked version where the first verse was played by Fripp with his appealingly smooth, seemingly infinitely sustaining tone, with Jakszyk playing the chordal accompaniment, before adding vocals from the second verse until the short song's end. Like "Islands," this is a song that maintains special relevance, again, in the unsettled political climate faced by so many.

Toronto may not have experienced "Peace: An End," a version of "Red" that, in Montréal and with Rieflin's keys adding more heft, was a particular highlight of a show filled with them, or Poseidon's metallic yet jazz-inflected "Pictures of a City"; but Montréal had to do without two seminal tracks from Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Island, 1973), also collected in the 15-disc box set, Larks' Tongues in Aspic (40th Anniversary Series Box) (Panegyric, 2012): the episodic "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One," which moved between whispers and ear-shattering roars, as Fripp and Jakszyk traded complicated phrases and Collins contributed a mid-piece flute solo that, just as he did on Live in Toronto: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, November 20, 2015 (Panegyric, 2015), included a brief nod to Canada's national anthem; and the near-anthemic but still high octane, irregularly metered "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two."

Clearly, there have, indeed, been compelling reasons to see Crimson twice (at least) on any tour—though with the band still following its comfortable modus operandi of never performing on a travel day but changing its previous tactic of booking two or three nights in the same city, back-to-back, on previous tours since 2014, it became necessary to take the longer train ride to Toronto in order to do so. Still, as exhausting as it was, after covering five nights of the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival and, prior to Crimson's Montréal show, four previous evenings with five additional shows at Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, there truly was no choice for a longtime, committed Crimhead.

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