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King Crimson at Theatre St-Denis

John Kelman By

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And, while the set lists for the group's first Canadian stop, Quebec City, were largely similar, with only the order of events changed (though all shows now seem to begin with "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part One" and "Pictures of a City," and finish with "Starless" and encores of "In the Court of the Crimson King" and "21st Century Schizoid Man," with the new percussion interlude, "Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row," beginning the encore more often than not), Montréal's two set lists were significantly different, resulting in a collective performance of almost everything in the group's current repertoire from 2014, with the exception of "Interlude"; "VROOOM" and "Coda: Marine 475," both from 1995's THRAK (recently given the deluxe box set treatment on DGM Live/Panegyric); and A Scarcity of Miracles' "The Light of Day." For those fortunate enough to have attended both performances, this was about as strong a two-nighter as anyone could hope for.

"I think there's a lot more experimentation than there was last year but, as a result, there are certain tunes that always start and end the show. So it's what happens in the middle that varies," said Jakszyk in the hour-long lunchtime interview.

What's particularly refreshing about this Crimson lineup is that the three new pieces were truly group collaborations. "For 'Suitable Grounds,' Robert had this idea of a blues in seven, so he came around to my house and we recorded it to a click," Jakszyk explained. "Then I think we must have sent it to Gavin for a drum arrangement and then sent it over to Tony for the bass; I wrote the melody and the lyrics and we brought it to rehearsal, where Mel wrote an instrumental part.

"I guess it generally starts with me and Robert," Jakszyk continued. "There's another piece that we haven't rehearsed where sections were pieced together over a long period of time; Robert would come around and he would have sections. Then we would record them to a click, assemble them together and send them out to the rest of the band."

One of the most impressive—and surprising, for some—aspects of the new Crim is how well the three- drummer frontline worked; this was a truly orchestrated percussion section, where parts were sometimes handed off like members of a tag team, other times diverse parts that built gradually to a thundering unison. And while Harrison may have written the drum arrangements, the collective with Reiflin and Mastelotto leveraged the strengths of three very different drummers and lifted the music off the "written" page to give it even greater life: the more overtly virtuosic (but never for the sake of it alone) Harrison, with the largest kit that seemed to have an endless array of tom toms and cymbals; Reiflin's small kit and a generally sparer approach—when the three drummers each took brief solo fills in the intro to each verse of "One More Red Nightmare," it was invariably Refilin who played next to nothing, which was both effective in and of itself and in contrast to his fellow drummers; and Mastelotto—who, after the first evening's show, referred to himself as the "wild card" drummer.

Indeed, between some of his samples, electronics (which every drummer had to varying extents) and his vast collection of metal percussion, Mastelotto—the second longest-standing drummer in Crimson's career next to Bill Bruford—has evolved into the closest thing Crimson has had, since 1972, to Jamie Muir, the maniacal, für-vested and blood cap-biting percussionist who played on Larks Tongues' in Aspic and toured briefly with the group before departing to pursue a monastic life more in line with his increasing devotion to Buddhism.

But what may be the biggest surprise about Crimson > 2014 is that Harrison had not really heard King Crimson before he was first invited to join the brief two-drummer incarnation for a brief, eleven-date/eight-city 2008 tour, documented on the download-only Park West, Chicago, Illinois August 7, 2008 (DGM Live/Panegyric, 2008), before the band became dormant once again.

"With some of the older songs we had to find a new way to do them, otherwise it would just be one drummer on each of them," said Harrison. "I was never a fan of King Crimson; I think I only had one of the records, Discipline (DGM Live/Panegyric, 1981). I had it on vinyl. so when I heard 'In the Court of the Crimson King,' for instance, about eight months ago, it was the first time I'd ever heard it. Robert was quite keen on the idea that we should approach it as a new piece, the way a band comes up with a new song and this is it...rather than faithfully trying to recreate every note that Michael Giles [the drummer on Crimson's first two albums] or Bill Bruford [an active Crimson member from 1972-1997] played. In that case it would be two drummers resting and one drummer faithfully reproducing the original part, and I think there's more fun to be had with three drummers starting from scratch.

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