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King Crimson at Theatre St-Denis

John Kelman By

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And make no mistake about it: this was a playing band. It may live under the veneer of rock, but when it came to some of the "expecteds" of today's rock shows, in particular, lighting and other visuals, Crimson > 2014 was, as it was the year before, almost completely devoid of any special lighting. No spotlights, no flashing lights, no constant color shifts; just one basic light setting that stayed the same for the entire two-hour set with one bold, dramatic exception: when, during the set-closing "Starless," the entire stage was suddenly drenched in a rich, warm red, which remained until the end of the song. Sometimes less is, indeed, more. Both nights were also defined by superb sound from Front of House engineer, Ian Bond.

And while the new material was welcome, especially for those fortunate enough to have seen the group's US tour, it was encouraging, in many ways, to see the audience respond to this lineup's reworking of material that many would likely know note-for-note, drum hit-for-drum hit and vocal line-for-vocal line. There were, of course, always the signatures that defined the material, but beyond that the liberties that were taken by the group—especially the drum frontline, which was again as much a marvel to watch as it was to hear—were completely accepted by the audience. Of course, it must be remembered that when what has ultimately become known as progressive rock first emerged with groups like King Crimson, Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and a multitude of others, it was in the province of Quebec and nearby Ottawa that these bands got their first foothold in North America. And what that meant, 40+ years later, was that not only were there the grey-hairs and no-hairs who likely saw Crimson back in the day, when the group played venues like Ottawa's Civic Centre Arena, Montréal's Forum and Quebec City's Convention Centre; there were younger fans, too, both on their own and accompanying their parents.

And if the massive standing ovation that met the band both nights in Montréal wasn't enough, ovations throughout the show, thundering applause and hoots and hollers were there throughout the set to let the group know it was great to be back in Montréal, where Fripp's new rules with respect to photography (something that has been an issue for decades) was handled with humor and a sense of community rather than with a harder line—informing the audience that when Levin (known for taking shots of the crowd) picked up his camera, the audience could too; and when he put it down, it would be appreciated if the audience would do the same. "Experience King Crimson through your eyes and your ears," suggested Fripp in a pre-recorded pre-show voiceover. That the audience cheered at the request was encouraging. That there were no hands raised with point-and-shoot cameras or cell-phones (other than when Levin had his camera in hand) was also beyond encouraging, as the audience ignored today's increasingly normal way of watching a show through a camera lens and listening to a performance through whatever recording device is being used and, instead, focused its complete attention on the band.

The rewards were many, and if King Crimson continues into 2016 and beyond with this lineup, the only hope is that audiences will continue to follow these simple requests and respect the artists they profess to love so much—Toronto's first night notwithstanding, where persistent photographers caused a frustrated Fripp to leave the stage before the second encore of "21st Century Schizoid Man"—the result, as per a message from Fripp at DGM Live, "of ongoing photographic abuse." That audiences across the United States, the United Kingdom, Continental Europe and the province of Quebec seemed to embrace Fripp's simple request only makes the behavior in Toronto all the more curious.


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