King Crimson at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier / Massey Hall

John Kelman By

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Stacey, with his larger kit, fit perfectly amidst the drum trifecta that also included Mastelotto and Harrison; but what was, perhaps, most revealing about all three drummers was how, with some of the newer material (and older material now brought into this Crimson's repertoire), there were passages where only one drummer carried the groove—and with, on some occasions, one of the others adding color and texture. Mastelotto, in particular, whose large "mad scientist" kit of drums—augmented with electronics and samples, but also all kinds of found objects—made him the closest equivalent any subsequent Crimson has had to the "X" factor that Jamie Muir brought to the quintet version of the Larks' Tongues in Aspic band. Harrison remained the most overtly virtuosic drummer of the three, in particular during his by-now regular extended solo during "21st Century Schizoid Man"; but on that front, neither Mastelotto nor Stacey were, by any stretch of the imagination, slouches either.

And when all three were playing Harrison's often complex yet still liberal arrangements— arrangements that defined clear roles, such as moving drum fills across the stage like runners passing the baton during a race, but not necessarily what each of them played—the three-drummer front- line was as compelling as ever, not just musically but visually. For a band where—barring a brief moment during "Starless" when the stage was drenched in, yes, red—there were no spotlights, no light show; instead, just a warmly lit stage, with everyone lit equally, including Fripp, and with eye contact and smiles aplenty...again, the guitarist included...it was a visual representation that echoed the philosophy of a group of equals, with no clear leader onstage (though, when it comes to decision-making, Fripp still retains veto power).

As for the three-drummer front-line? There still remain, three years after it began touring, naysayers to the concept; but the simple truth is, no matter how superb he absolutely was, even the great Bill Bruford—who participated in various Crimson incarnations from 1972 through 1997— would have been unable to accomplish, with a mere two hands and two feet, what this at-times 12-limbed single organism could...and did. It needn't be a matter of comparison; they're simply different.

Certain songs benefited from there being up to three keyboardists. Certainly, the Islands band's version of "Cirkus" was never as massive as when Rieflin, Stacey and Fripp were all contributing keyboard parts, ranging from symphonic mellotrons to acoustic and electric piano parts; the same applied to "Last Skirmish" where, despite there being fewer of the free jazz players that contributed to the studio version, this lineup managed to evoke all of its sheer power and evocative/provocative dramaturgy. Rieflin's role may not have always been obvious with eyes closed, as he contributed a broad array of textures, and melodic/chordal ideas; but watching him throughout the set, it was clear that he added plenty to the group, from sheer density to, at times, ethereal delicacy, rendering the complexion of songs even already heard during the 2014 and 2015 tours as new and, by definition, different.

It would appear that the two songs taken from the Jakszyk, Collins & Fripp album A Scarcity of Miracles (Panegyric, 2011)—the record that, also with the participation of Levin and Harrison, represented the seed of what would become the "seven-headed Beast of Crim" a couple of years later—have been dropped from the set. Who knows if they'll reappear...assuming Crimson, already a year past its original three-year plan, continues beyond 2017? And while there's a new vocal composition, "Radical Action III," that's been added to the obliquely titled "Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)" and "Radical Action II"—this lineup's multi-version "Larks' Tongues in Aspic"?—only "Meltdown," a new vocal tune from 2015, along with "Radical II" and "Radical III" were included in the Montréal and Toronto set lists. Neither the original "Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)" nor 2015's other compelling vocal tune, the irregularly metered, appropriately titled "Suitable Grounds for the Blues," were anywhere to be found. Only one of the percussion features, "Hell Hounds of Krim," was performed in Montréal, while Toronto also heard "Banshee Legs Bell Hassle."

The return of "Interlude"—a Fripp original that featured, in addition to the guitarist, Collins and Jakszyk on flutes, Levin on electric upright bass and, now, Rieflin on keys—has become a brief feature for the back-line, one with form, to be sure, but freedom as well. It may have almost gone by some of the fans as a mere, well, interlude, but remains one of the most beautiful, wonderfully understated miniatures that Fripp has written in recent years.


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