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King Crimson at Theatre St-Denis

John Kelman By

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King Crimson
Théâtre St-Denis
Montréal, Canada
November 16-17, 2015

When King Crimson's only original member and co-founder, guitarist Robert Fripp, announced unexpectedly that the band was coming out of retirement in 2013, other than the unconventional lineup nobody had any idea what to expect other than the brief snippets being released at the band's DGM Live site, which suggested that this "seven-headed Beast of Crim," in addition to new material, would be revisiting songs not played live in over forty years...or, in some cases, ever at all.

It was also, in some ways, Fripp's last kick at the can to turn the band that has occupied so much of his professional life, and yet was rarely an enjoyable experience, into something in which he could, indeed, be a happy participant. And so, some rules were formed, included in the 24-page booklet of the two-disc The Elements of King Crimson 2015 tour box, one of many items that would be sold at the group's well-attended merchandise table at every show:

May King Crimson bring joy to us all, including me;
If you don't want to play a part, that's fine! Give it to someone else—there's enough of us;
All the music is new, whenever it was written;
If you don't know your note, hit C#;
If you don't know the time, play in 5. Or in 7;
If you don't know what to play, get more gear;
If you still don't know what to play, play nothing.


Now, some of these rules may appear to be tongue in cheek, but add a couple more rules and you've got the modus operandi that drove Crimson in its critically acclaimed and well-attended tour in the fall of 2014—one which has continued into subsequent tours of the UK, continental Europe, and now, Canada:

Do not play two different cities and/or venues on two consecutive nights; instead have a travel day in-between, so that everyone from the band to its support crew can be as rested as possible and able to do their jobs to the absolute best of their abilities, rather than following the current reality for most touring bands: that is, more time is spent getting to gigs, setting up and tearing down than actually performing;
If possible, play in the same city and venue for two or three nights, making touring an even more pleasant experience because every gig does not require full set-up and tear-down;
Play, as often as possible, in good-sounding theatre-style venues so that the band, road crew and audience will be as comfortable as possible during the group's roughly two-hour performances.


And so, while the group's seventeen-date/nine-city 2014 US jaunt missed a lot of locations that would have easily supported a visit, the tour—which included a stunning two-night run at San Francisco's heralded Warfield—was an equally stellar success on a number of fronts. Rolling Stone's David Fricke called it the best show of 2014—as, indeed, did All About Jazz cite it as one of the year's best live performances.

But more importantly, this seven-piece incarnation—the largest Crimson ever, featuring an unconventional lineup with three drummers (Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin) as the group's frontline, with Fripp, fellow guitarist/lead vocalist Jakko M. Jakszyk, bassist/stick player Tony Levin and, back in the fold as a full-time member after more than forty years, saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins—was the first in thirty years where the entire band (Fripp included) was fully lit, and also the first time in that time where the ever-seated Crimson co-founder could be seen actively engaged visually with both the band and the audience. It was also the first time in decades that the 69 year-old guitarist could actually be seen smiling; clearly he was having a good time...and so, consequently, did audiences across the United States, who had the opportunity to witness a Crimson that looked back on its impressive 45-year catalog, while avoiding the self- caricaturing "tribute band" syndrome that defines far too many aging rock bands still on the road.

And so, a little more than 13 months after those two wonderful San Francisco shows—and with tours of the U.K. and continental Europe now under its collective belt—King Crimson landed in Montréal's Théâtre St-Denis in mid-November, 2015—the second of six cities making up the band's Canadian tour. What was surprising—or, perhaps, not—was the number of people in the audience over those two nights that had made the trek from the United States to hear just how far the group had come in the past year.

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