Plenty has already been written about King Crimson's surprise reemergence in 2014 at All About Jazz
, beginning when the now 47 year-old progressive/art rock band commenced its first tour since 2008 (and its first extensive one since 2003) with a new, expanded lineup featuring a front-line of three drummers and a back-line of two guitarists (one, also, a vocalist), a bassist/stick player and a reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist. From reviews of two nights at San Francisco's Warfield Theater
in the fall of 2014 and an additional two nights (plus highlights from an hour-long lunchtime interview with three band members) at Montréal's Théâtre St-Denis
in the late fall of 2015, to coverage of two live albumsthe LP-length CD Live at the Orpheum
(Panegyric, 2015) and complete, unadulterated document of Live In Toronto: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, November 20, 2015
(Panegyric, 2016)nearly a novella's amount of verbiage has been written about the group nobody expected to reconvene, and which continues to tour to this day, currently in the midst of a 41-date return tour of Europe, currently scheduled to last until early December, 2016.
As well-received as this incarnation has beeneven garnering a remarkable "best live show of 2014" award from journalist David Fricke, of the perennially progressive-averse Rolling Stone Magazine
this lineup, dubbed by the group's only remaining co-founder, guitarist/occasional keyboardist Robert Fripp
, as the "Seven-Headed Beast of Crim," has had its share of naysayers. So, before entering into a review of Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
, Crimson's lavish three-CD/single Blu Ray set (also available with an additional two DVDs containing the Blu Ray content, for a total of six discs)culled largely from its 2015 performance in Takamatsu, Japan, with additional material from two nights elsewhere in Japan, as well as including three tracks ("One More Red Nightmare," a new song introduced in 2015, "Suitable Grounds for the Blues," and "The Light of Day") recorded farther afield, a couple of responses:
"Why does this group need three drummers, when hiring ['70s, '80s and mid-'90s Crimson drummer] Bill Bruford
would have been enough," one erstwhile fan suggested on ProgressiveEars.org, a popular discussion board for all things Prog.
The answer, if witnessing this Crimson in performance, or hearing the group's first two live releases, wasn't enough? Because that's exactly
how many drummers this group needs. Between the detailed arrangements and unbridled spontaneity that combine Pat Mastelotto
's imaginative electro-acoustics and the frightening virtuosity of Gavin Harrison and his truly massive kit (both drummers having played in earlier Crimson incarnations), along with Bill Rieflin's sparer but ever-perfect (and no less pyrotechnic) contributions on a considerably smaller setin addition to his handling most keyboard parts that Crimson fans haven't heard since 1974, in particular the much-loved Mellotron (or, in this case, very realistic Mellotron samples)there's plenty to keep all three (or, when Rieflin is playing keyboards, two) actively engaged. And watching them in performance, it's not just a musical engagement, it's a very visual one as well, seeing how these three drummers' combined parts become a single, six-handed/six-footed entity.
Equally important, however, is that the drum arrangements rarely find all three drummers pounding away in unison (or even close); instead, it's a polyrhythmic and/or orchestral blend that's as much about texture and color as it is pulse. Still, this is music that is, at times, predicated on grooves all the more massive for the front-line's seemingly effortless blend of tag-team gymnastics, passages where one drummer holds down the pulse while the others punctuate liberally...and, yes, occasional moments when the three absolutely join together, creating a thunderous power that any fewer than three drummers simply could not achieve, all the while playing individual parts that come together like a house of cards; remove any one person's part and there's the possibility, at times, that everything would fall apart.
The drum arrangementslargely written by Harrison but lifted off the written page and brought to life by both his own stellar playing and that of his two equally exceptional front-line matesaccomplish a very specific purpose, one that the entire group shares: not being about recreating Crimson's nearly five-decade career with unerring authenticity (though there is certainly some of that) but, instead, to reinvent it, playing the music with a healthy combination of reverence and
irreverence; faithful to the signatures that render its repertoire classic, all while avoiding the overtly/overly literal.
It's an important distinction, and one which separates Crimson from the lion's share of legacy acts that have reunited, in recent years, to capitalize on progressive rock's reemergence and, after a few decades otherwise, newfound respect. Those looking to hear Crimson recreate its music with the kind of complete reverence and accuracy that has turned groups like Yes
into nothing more than tribute bands need look elsewhere. Instead, this group is King Crimson reimagined: King Crimson for a new millennium.
Until this incarnation, King Crimson has rarely looked very far back in its discography, more often recordingand, in concert, focusing largely onnew material. The current Crimson may not have released a new studio album, though it has managed to put together nearly 26 minutes of new music (all represented on Radical Action
); but it is
the first lineup in the band's history to look so decidedly at so much of its broad-reaching repertoire.
In addition to playing music from eight of its thirteen studio recordings and all but one of its previous touring lineups (with the current European tour recently adding material from two more recordings, so that every
studio album from the '70s is represented and all but the '80s band now covered), the 2015 tour (like 2014) also included two songs from A Scarcity of Miracles
the 2011 Panegyric recording subtitled A King Crimson ProjeKct
to its repertoire. They're important inclusions because, while that album began as a series of guitar improvisations by Fripp and now-current Crimson guitarist/vocalist Jakko M. Jakszyk
very significantly, a member of the otherwise Crimson alum-driven 21st Century Schizoid Band that was active between 2002 and 2004with the gradual addition of other Crimson alumni Tony Levin
(bass, stick), Mel Collins
(saxophones, flutes) and drummer Gavin Harrison, A Scarcity of Miracles
ultimately became the current band's foundation, even if it took an additional three years to happen...and with an expanded lineup fleshed out by Mastelotto, and Rieflinthe latter being the only musician to have never served in King Crimson, but who previously worked with Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists in the late '80s; participated in 1999's The Repercussions of Angelic Behavior
(with Fripp and another Ex-Crim, touch guitarist Trey Gunn
); and was a charter member, along with Fripp, in the aptly titled Slow Music Project, also featuring guitarist Peter Buck (R.E.M.), bassist Fred Chalenor (Caveman Shoestore), drummer Matt Chamberlain (Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Floratone) and keyboardist Hector Zazou.
The truth is that this version of King Crimson is the first one capable of approaching its past repertoire with the kind of rich instrumentation that possessing so many musical voices allows. Barring, perhaps, the '90s double trio, there's been no previous lineup capable of replicating albums that, with all the instrumental and vocal overdubs, could simply not be performed with the same verisimilitude. Yes, it's now possible to hear a song like "Starless," from 1974's classic Red
, in a form that possesses far more of its key elements (one reason of many, perhaps, that the current group has been touring under the banner of The Elements of King Crimson
?); but it also allows, at the same time, for a far more expansive interpretive improvisational component that makes each and every night a completely different experience.
The second thought held by a number of naysayers: that Live at the Orpheum
, at a paltry 41 minutes, was "too short" and "cheated" fans unable to attend the 21-date, Fall 2014 tour of the USA from the opportunity to experience a full performance.
While already addressed to some extent in the All About Jazz
review of Live at the Orpheum
, co-producer David Singleton's relatively brief technical notes, included in Radical Action
's booklet, provide an even clearer (and most empirical) view for those who don't know what goes into making a live recording that, rather than being just the "warts and all" concert that Live in Toronto
would ultimately becomeand not that there's anything wrong with that, but it is a completely different beastbut one intended to be a properly produced affair, with any unacceptable errors, technical glitches or other flaws corrected by carefully post-production editing.
In those same liners, Singleton discusses the positives provided by modern technology, which makes it possible to record not just one or two shows, as was done back in the dayand at great expense, but intrinsically unable to ensure, as a result, that the live release represented the group at its very bestbut, instead, to commit an entire
tour to hard disc, as has been the case with every Crimson tour since the 1990s. But while it is
wonderful to have so many choices, it can also be an embarrassment of riches.
Consider this: the current Crimson requires 42 tracks
for the three drummers alone. The 2015 tour, from which Radical Action
is culled, ran for a total of 38 shows, and so to produce a recording like Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
, somebody has to listen to 1,596 individual drum tracks...and that's just
the drums. In this case, as with Live at the Orpheum
, Singleton was relieved of his usual task of listening to and assessing every single recorded track, as he'd done prior to this lineup, instead assumed by Harrison (the drums) and Jakszyk (everything else). From there, the final mixes were put together by Fripp, Singleton and mixing engineer Chris Porter.
Furthermore, consider this
: these people had eight months to put Radical Action
together, which is still no mean feat; for Orpheum
, with a tour that concluded in early October 2014, Jakszyk and Harrison had just three months to put everything together for a January 2015 release. And so, in retrospect, the decision to prepare roughly one-third of a typical Crimson show for release not only made sense; it was the only decision possible.
The success of Crimson's 2014 tour made clear that this incarnation not only should, but must
continue. Organized to avoid the gruelling schedule normally experienced by touring musicians, not only was Fripp well-lit onstage for the first time in thirty years, he was clearly having more fun, playing with King Crimson, than he had in four decades. And so, as the decision to continue touring into 2015 and 2016 was made, so, too, were plans for the release of a complete concert in audio format (Live in Toronto
), along with what has now become Radical Action
: three CDs, each with their own themes ("Mainly Metal," "Easy Money Shots" and "Crimson Classics"); and a Blu Ray containing a cumulative live video performance (as is true of the CDs) of every single song that Crimson would ultimately play by the time the 2015 tour was over. That's a total of 29 compositions, totalling 160 minutes on CD and just shy of three hours on Blu Raywhich also allows the video to be turned off, rendering it a high resolution, audio-only concert experience.
And it's a stunning one that, once again, demonstrates Fripp's desire to bring something different than most. Rather than being a live concert video, with CDs containing the same audio added, the track sequencing on the CDs and Blu Ray disc are different.
Each CD stands as its own self-contained entity, with the cumulative effect of the three CDs heard back-to-back possessed of its own narrative. With audience noise/applause and sound of the hall removedusually left in, in attempts to reproduce a live performances' energywhile the CDs are certainly still plenty energetic, they feel more like studio recordings, an approach by no means new to Crimson, which began using live recordings as the basis for studio albums like 1974's Starless and Bible Black
, where tracks like "The Mincer," "We'll Let You Know" and the epic "Fracture" were culled from live shows, with audience removed and additional overdubs and corrections made later in post-production.
The Blu Ray, on the other handwith audience noise, the sound of the room and a different mixfeels very much like the "hot date" Fripp has often used to describe the difference between live recordings and studio albums, which he generally calls "love letters."
That said, it's important to keep in mindas Fripp so rightly says in his short liner notesthat even live recordings with the audience and room sound retained simply cannot capture the true concert experience, which is an ephemeral, fleeting thing only truly experienced by those in attendance. Once a show is over, it's gone...into the ether...other than in the attendees' memories. Live recordingswhether audio or videoare, like any other recording: artifices intended to reflect what went down as best as possible, whether it's the more considered result of a studio production or, as in this case, something that reflects the energy and bidirectional feedback between audience and artist.
And on that front, Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
succeeds marvellously. Both CDs and Blu Ray possess their own kind of energy, and for anyone fortunate enough to have seen this group in performance, they're as close to the real experience as an artificially constructed recording can be...and, at the same time, something completely different. Most who purchase audio/video combinationswhere the CDs are no more than, at most, differently mastered versions of the video's audiowatch the video a couple of times, and then file them away, largely sticking with the CDs; in the case of Radical Action
, there's very good reason to continue playing both, with the choice depending on mood or circumstance.
Live video recordings, however, present their own challenges. Most significantly, if the intent is to present an energetic and captivating video experience, the presence of multiple camera operators (and, sometimes, cameras on long, movable booms that allow for full band imagery and the movement of closing in on a particular player) acts as a distraction for both the audience and, most importantly, the artistswho must accept that, at the moment when they are soloing at their most reckless, there will inevitably be a camera operator, crouching or standing nearby, putting a big video camera in their face. While it makes for great shots, it doesn't exactly help the musicians focus on the most important thing: the music.
In fact, other musicians like Pat Metheny
have often talked about this distraction, with the famous jazz guitarist going so far as to say that when he knows he's being recorded, he automatically goes into "record mode"where, because he knows this is about making a permanent document, he tends to take far fewer risks in his playing. Hardly something that encourages a musician to be the best they can be. Instead, it drives them to be the most precise, the most accurate, the most "perfect" that they can be (assuming the distraction of the cameras isn't too severe; for some musicians, those distractions prevent them from being at their best); three things to which every musician certainly aspires, but qualities which may not necessarily be possible when they are taking significant chances.
And while a progressive rock group like Genesis
was predicated on reproducing studio albums as accurately, as precisely, as perfectly
as possible, that's simply not what Crimson has been about. Instead, King Crimson is more closely aligned with jazz musicians, even if the music they play is not jazz: Crimson's music is often predicated on a similar risk-taking improvisational aesthetic that makes every night different, every night an opportunity to reach heights that can only come from taking those chances...individually and collectively.
And so, rather than arranging for a multi-camera shoot at a couple of performances, Crimson opted to use a single camera operator, as Singleton dryly describes, "the long-suffering Trevor Wilkins," who "filmed every night with a series of cameras hidden discreetly on the stage where they would intrude on neither the artist nor audience. The compromise is thus in the visuals and not in the music." While using stationary cameras eliminates the possibility of motion, Wilkins has done a remarkable job of intimating it, by utilizing slow fades between shots of individual musicians, subsets of the group and full-on band shots, as well as using techniques like split and overlain screens (albeit far more seamless than split screens of old, like the 1970 film Woodstock
) to suggest movement...and interaction. An added plus is that the currently "in vogue" fashion of fast cuts is rendered valueless, and so the film actually feels, despite its origins, more organic than many films that rarely stay with one shot for more than a few seconds (if that).
Musically, while most material comes from the Takamatsu shows, having witnessed four shows in two cities and covered music recorded at two other performances, if Radical Action
doesn't contain the absolutely best performance of every song, it will fool even the most ardent Crimson fan who has seen numerous live sets since 2014. The energy, the interaction, the improvisational élan and the sheer perfection of these performances may well represent the best versions of these songs ever documented on a live Crimson recording.
In some cases it's because the group can play more of the parts from the studio recording: on "The Letters," from 1971's Islands
, it's now possible to hear the foundational, chord-based guitar part that Jakszyk plays while he sings its dark-hued lyrics, with Fripp adding the embellishments that he never before could; and with three drummers to augment Jakszyk, Fripp and Levin during Collins' incendiary baritone soloa solo that here, as was the case during the first of the group's two 2014 San Francisco performances, builds to such a fiery climax that, bolstered by the reckless, cacophonous support of his band mates, encourages the saxophonist, as the dynamics begin to drop, to go for another round (in jazz lingo, "another chorus"), extending his solo and building it, again, from a whisper to a roar...and to a second, even more stratospheric peak. It's this kind of beyond-exhilarating group interplay and freedom to even change structure on the fly that makes this such a definitive version, one that has yet another climax as Jakszyk begins the final verse with unbridled power, before the song fades to black, with the vocals supported by nothing but delicate cymbal shots...traded amongst the drummers.
' "Sailor's Tale"a fan favourite despite not having been performed since the acrimonious implosion of the 1971 touring band the following yearbenefits greatly from the expanded lineup. The signature ride cymbal figure (again, shared amongst the drummers) introduces its first, 6/8 section, but it's when the entire band comes in that Crimson truly achieves liftoff. With, for the first time, two guitar parts in harmony (based on Fripp's signature silken, sustaining yet overdriven tone), Levin's unshakable but ever-open anchor and the front-line drummers playing individual roles that come together in a confluence of groove and exhilarating power, Collins delivers another of the many mind-blowing solos heard throughout the set. When everything stops and Levin's bass line introduces the second, 4/4 section, it's Fripp who, faithfully reproducing the faux-banjo tone and rapid strumming of the original recording, takes a chordal solo that builds to its own frenzied climax over Rieflin's dark-hued Mellotron chords, before the 6/8 section returns and the song builds to its greatest climax of all. One particularly nice feature is that, while the song ends with some low-volume, low-register Mellotron chords, audience applause usually drowned it out; here, those wonderful brooding chords are there for all to hear, rendering this another definitive live version of one of Crimson's best-loved instrumentals.
But while it's sometimes about verisimilitudealbeit with the group straddling the line between reverence and reinventionthere are also tracks that benefit from additional instrumentation that was not there in the first place, overdubbed or otherwise. On "Level Five"first introduced on Crimson's same-titled 2001 live EP but realized, in studio form, on the group's final (so far) studio album, 2003's The Power to Believe
the saxophone that doubles Levin's powerful bass line is but one thing that this expanded Crimson brings to the piece. It also features Fripp and Jakszyk's staggered, interlocking guitar lines, that the Crimson co-founder first innovated with the Gamelan-informed music of the '80s incarnation's debut, 1981's Discipline
. And in the middle sectionwhich alternates between drums and a knotty, high-velocity line tripled by guitars and stickMastelotto was originally on the hook to do it all alone...and did it with frightening, multi-brained precision. Here, however, he focuses more exclusively on electronics, leaving Rieflin and Harrison to provide the primal, tom-driven pulse. And after Fripp's scored line introduces the next section, Collins takes a scorching soprano saxophone solo that takes the song...and the band...to places the original four-piece band that toured it from 2001-2003 could simply not go.
It all makes for a thrilling listen. But it's not all firepower and frenzy; both songs culled from A Scarcity of Miracles
the more grooving title track and semi-ambient "The Light of Day"provide moments of relief from what was, in the concert hall, some ear-crunching high decibel music. And while their symphonic nature means a broader range of dynamics, both "Epitaph" (a song as relevant today as it was in then) and the title track from Crimson's 1969 debut that shook the world, In the Court of the Crimson King
, provide plenty of softer moments to contrast with the harder-edged passages. On both, Jakszyk demonstrates why he was the perfect choice for second guitarist and singer for this lineup: few singers could manage the breadth of Crimson's repertoire; until now, no Crimson singer has ever been required to do so, but Jakszyk manages to bring his own interpretation to every vocal tune while, at the same time, keeping in mind that there are melodies and phrasings that remain essential from the originals.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the eight-minute look at "Easy Money," one of four tunes culled from 1973's Larks' Tongues in Aspic
six compositions, where Jakszyk balances, with particularly perfection, respect for the original take and his own interpretation. With Mastelotto's electronics, there's a chance to hear altered recreations of some of the seemingly endless bag of tricks brought to the original by the sadly short-lived percussionist Jamie Muir. It's also a version that possesses some of the humor that Muir originally brought out of his band mates, and one of Fripp's best, most extended solos of the set (augmented by some wonderful wordless vocalizing by Jakszyk), with Levin avoiding the often thunderous but sometimes plodding sound of original bassist John Wetton
Speaking of Levin, as ever he is the glue that binds the entire band together. Relentlessly reliable, that doesn't mean he doesn't take his own liberties; throughout the set, he's a font of invention. On Red
's instrumental title track, where the three drummers not only play tag-team, but completely alter the groove that underlies the song's metallic nature (rendering it massively influential for groups including Tool and Ånglagård), Levin also takes considerable liberties, turning the song into something more primal, more primitive, despite its inherent complexities. And the addition of Collins' soprano saxophone during the main theme, and flute during its more orchestral middle section, only serves to reinvent the song for a new century, even as it is absolutely unmistakable.
Respect for key parts is countered by everything from new ideas (and drum arrangements) that seem to flow differently and fluidly from show-to-show, to expanded instrumentation and altered guitar voicings that, while close enough to be recognizable, yet again reinvent the music for a new time and a new lineup. A complete track-by-track analysis is pointless, with so much already written about the majority of this material. But it's worth noting that, in addition to wonderfully written and arranged percussion ensemble pieces like ""The Hell Hounds of Krim," "Banshee Leg Bell Hassle" and "Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row" (co-composed by the three drummers), and Fripp's brief, avant-tinged "Interlude"where Levin's upright electric bass is the initial lead voice, supported by Fripp's gentle soundscapes and ultimately augmented by both Collins and
Jakszyk on flutethere are three full-group compositions new to this group.
Fripp's knotty, metal-tinged and metrically challenging instrumental title track bookends "Meltdown," a composition co-written by Fripp and Jakszyk, where Gamelan-inspired interlaced guitar parts drive a vocal line all the more remarkable for Jakszyk's managing to sing it while playing his guitar parta significant skill that he's demonstrated with apparent ease since his days in 21st Century Schizoid Band, where he had to play Fripp's parts...a challenge in and of itself...while singing simultaneously. The song marries latter-day Crim with Crim of old, with Rieflin's Mellotron anchoring the chorus, and Collins' saxophone providing interludes throughout, making the song a kind of confluence of the many things that have defined Crimson over the decades. Elsewhere, "Suitable Grounds for the Blues," also co-written by Fripp and Jakszyk, is a 7/4-driven, altered (yes) blues with conventional subject matter written about most unconventionally, positioning Jakszyk as the new Crimson lyric scribe, alongside past wordsmiths Pete Sinfield, Richard Palmer-James and Adrian Belew
, of a modernistic and poetic bent:
"This is how it ends
All bitterness and bruising
How it soon descends
Into victory and losing
These are suitable grounds for the blues.
This is how it ends
All screwed up and confusing
No fear it might offend
That former loved one you're abusing
Resentment mixed with envy
There's suitable grounds for the blues.
This is how it ends
The acceptance of delusion
The urge to condescend
The inevitable conclusion
These are suitable grounds for the blues."
The Blu Ray performance reveals plenty, that even those who attended any of Crimson's shows since 2014 might have missed if their eyes were in the wrong place at the wrong time. For the first time since the short-lived LTIA quintet lineup with Jamie Muir, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One" is played in its full, multi-movement glory as it moves from Gamelan-inspired musings and proto-metal to gentle (and, at times, humorous) a cappella
flute and, finally, a return to its more metallic edge. In the third section, Jakszyk plays what was once Fripp's knotty, elliptical linethe consequence of Fripp's being no longer able to play it with the New Standard Tuning (NST), which he began to adopt in 1985with the kind of effortless mastery that continues to suggest a guitarist deserving far broader recognition. But it's when, after he plays the full-circle line twice and Fripp begins to alternate another line with him that it becomes clear, on this, both the first, Mainly Metal
, CD and Blu Ray's opening piece (excluding the brief "Threshold Soundscape," that acted as a pre-show chill-down and stage-entering music for the group), that this is a King Crimson absolutely prepared to, if not rewrite history, then to expand, expound and extrapolate upon it.
A reinvented "Peace," the bookending miniature that also acts as an album-divider on Crimson's sophomore effort, 1970's In the Wake of Poseidon
, Jakszyk sings lyrics in Japanese (a nod to Japan shows from which most of Radical Action
's performances were drawn?) before returning to English for Sinfield's still-timely words from the album-closing "Peace: An End; a gentle opener to the triple-punch of the title track, "Meltdown" and "Radical Action II."
"VROOOM," from 1995's sole studio outing by Crimson's double trio, THRAK
, is still as massive an instrumental as it ever was...more so, in fact, thanks to three drummers whose separate parts combine to create something that grooves, but is also more texturally expansive. But it's also given a touch of levity by Collins' baritone saxophone, which largely doubles Levin's rocking line during the composition's main section, as well as the bassist's lead melody line, during its gentler near-chamber middle section, when the reed man switches to flute. But it's Levin, playing the entire piece on upright bass, that lends the piece a different complexion, along with a good example of the three drummers' house-of-cards groove.
In a group presented in static lighting (barring one, dramatic moment during Red
's epic, main set-closing "Starless," where suddenly, the entire stage is awash in, yes, red), and without the usual rock posturingeven the usually more mobile Levin is relatively stillit might seem that there's little to watch with this Crimson lineup. But between the marvel of watching Mastelotto, Rieflin and Harrison's often complex interlocking parts, Jakszyk's expressive face while singing, and just the sheer virtuosity in the hands, fingers and feet of the collected group, there's plenty to engage the eye as well as the ear...and for more than one watch. The video is, while high def, not exactly high fi, with some slight over-burning on the faces. But with Trevor Wilkins' remarkable job piecing together footage from the multiple stationary cameras, the Blu Ray is a more enjoyable watch than many higher quality, moving multi-camera concert shoot productions. And with a mix so significantly different, and the option to turn the video off and just listen to it in either high res surround or stereo, this is truly a rare audio/video combo where, despite the performances being the same, there's good reason to turn to the Blu Ray as often as the CDs.
For inquiring minds, the reason that "Suitable Grounds for the Blues" and "One More Red Nightmare" are placed as bonus tracks at the end of the Blu Ray is that, having not been recorded during the Japanese tour, there's a noticeable difference in the setting (despite being similar), one that would create a feeling of inconsistency, were they to be inserted in the main program. But they remain full video shoots and high watermark performances by the group...in particular, "One More Red Nightmare," with Jakszyk's best vocal performance of the tune, at least based on Live at the Orpheum
and catching the group in San Francisco and Montréal.
And, for some levity, a picture-in-picture video of the group just prior to hitting the stage during "Threshold Soundscape," as well as "Backstage Adventures of the Crimson Kind"brief informal and often humorous spots with each member of the group, most notably Fripp, who explains, with a combination of humor and truth:
"The primary three King Crimson principles are:
Joy: May King Crimson bring joy to us all...including me;
The second is: the music is new, whenever it was written;
And the third is...what's the third one? Oh yes: do nothing as much as you can."
With its Blu Ray capable of being both a video and audio-only experience, and three CDs sequenced with their own themes to stand alone and together, Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
is the definitive live release from Crimson > 2014, despite each of its previous two live albums possessing its own value and charm. Whether or not the group will continue in this form (currently, Rieflin is on leave for personal reasons and has been replaced temporarily, the folks at Crimson HQ assure, with busy session and touring drummer Jeremy Stacey)indeed, whether or not this turns out to be the 70 year-old, Dorset-born Fripp's final kick at the Crimson canif it were to end tomorrow, with all the touring under its belt and the triple-punch of Live at the Orpheum
, Live In Toronto: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, November 20, 2015
, and now the comprehensive and absolutely riveting Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
, this "Seven-Headed Beast of Crim" will have left a lasting legacy...one that positions it at the very top of the eight touring lineups that have been creating monumental, Promethean and eminently memorable music for nearly five decades.
Consider the sheer diversity and relentless reinvention of Crimson's groundbreaking catalog over 47 years, 13 studio albums and countless live recordings, all released on various media including CD, DVD, Blu Ray and digital downloads: early symphonic records like In the Court of the Crimson King
and transitional In the Wake of Poseidon
; the symphonic but even more free jazz leanings of Lizard
; the improv-informed and pastoral classicism of Islands
; the more guitar-driven, even more improvisation-heavy leanings of the group responsible for 1973's Larks' Tongues in Aspic
through that lineup's live swan song, 1975's USA
; the beginning of Fripp's interest in Gamelan-inspired interlocking/interlacing guitar parts and move away from any obvious vestiges of its previous decade with the '80s lineup responsible, amongst others, for 1981's classic Discipline
; the simultaneously heavier and more pop-informed double trio of THRAK
; and the Nuevo Metal of the double duo responsible for 2000's The ConstruKction of Light
and 2003's The Power to Believe
A controversial idea, perhaps, but how many groups in the progressive/art rock sphere can be said to have shifted gears as distinctly and regularly as King Crimson, despite sometimes taking significant breaks between incarnationsas much as a decade, in the case of the '80s group and the '90s double trio? Is it really hyperbole to suggest that Robert Fripp is the Miles Davis
of progressive/art rock music, given the iconic jazz trumpeter's similar penchant for major reinvention throughout his careerin Fripp's case, reinvention that goes even further when taking into consideration his significant extra-Crimson activities which include, amongst many others, Frippertronics, Soundscapes, Fripp & Eno, Travis & Fripp, Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins, the League of Crafty Guitarists and solo albums like 1979's Exposure
? Ignoring all that and considering Crimson > 2014's repertoire alonefrom the lineup that has delved further into its entire discography than any other, while gradually adding new music to its set listsand its release of the exceptional Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
, which covers material from every touring lineup with the exception of the '80s quartet?
Food for thought? Most definitely. In the meantime, Radical Action
is the definitive live Crimson release from the definitive live Crimson lineup; more than enough to bolster the suggestion that Fripp is, indeed, the Miles Davis of the progressive/art rock world...and, considering the full breadth of his career, other arenas as well. And for that reason alone (and there are many others), Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
is a landmark recording from a group whose discography is filled with them.