Three drummers should be a nightmare. I mean, one drum solo is bad enough. All that clattering, splashing, banging, bish bash boshing, and stick(s)-in-the-air-so-you-can-clap-me-now stuff is okay once in a while, if not for anyone else at least for the one behind the kit. But three drummers? C’mon. That’s just a racket. Well it is if you’re not King Crimson. For almost 50 years, KC’s sunshine band have long been bringing a devastatingly beautiful and warped light into the nooks and crannies of music and deconstructing it time and again to remake it into what it should and shouldn’t be. And tonight, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – as with every other venue on this tour – is again to be given a masterclass in musicianship.
On the hitty, beaty, bashy things sit long-time (since 1994) skin hitter Pat Maselotto, relatively new (well, since 2007) beat basher Gavin Harrison, and very new (since 2016) rhythm tickler Jeremy Stacey. All seasoned veterans, all virtuosos, all incapable of playing something dull, there they sit. All night. Playing mind-blowing stuff. Sometimes all together. Sometimes all apart. Sometimes in conversation and call-and-response and from one to the next to the next and round again. And all the time simply outstanding.
Up behind the drums sits mastermind and melody mangler Robert Fripp who is joined by Mel Collins on the windy blowy things, Tony Levin on low-end stringy things and power postures, Bill Rieflin fingering the mellotron and tinkling on the ivories, and Jakko Jaksyk on the melodious and occasionally-harmful plank and deep-and-meaningful mouth sounds. And while the drummers bash their bits, this lot bring the noise. And what noise this eight-headed, sixteen-legged, eighty-fingered, multi-brained beast makes.
An evening of two sets, tonight is a truly immersive experience. And one that is made all the more enjoyable by the no mobile phone and/or recording devices request of the band. But while everyone here desperately wants to record the show, the band and this evening’s experience is held in higher esteem than any individual’s desire to experience it through a miniscule digital window (and yes, it does make a difference to the evening, a markedly improved difference at that). No one wants to miss anything. To miss a note would ruin the entire evening. The audience is captivated throughout, the sea of predominantly grey hair and bald spots bobbing along to the hypnotic heaven that pours out of the band’s collective consciousness into the Symphony Hall’s crystal acoustics and into the eager ear ‘oles of all in attendance.
Tracks from their 1969 debut, from Lizard, Islands, Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Red, Discipline, and Beat make up a significant part of the evening. While rapturous applause and standing ovations by individuals and the whole crowd follow the tracks, there’s a jaws-dropped-and-eyes-and-ears-fixed-on-each-musician respectful focus during the songs, even sporadic headbanging (yes, ageing prog fans headbang too). Closing with the as-always incredible ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ featuring a phenomenal drum solo (sans self-congratulatory sticks in the air cobblers) from Harrison (yeah, yeah, I know what I said earlier), clapping and cameras fill the venue as Birmingham again stands in awe of the band.
Nothing else can be said.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the band’s live debut and of their iconic and iconoclastic debut album. What delights await us?
Words by Jason Guest
- Drumsons in Brumsons
- Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One
- Suitable Grounds for the Blues
- One More Red Nightmare
- Lizard (Bolero, Dawn Song, Last Skirmish, Prince Rupert’s Lament)
- Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
- Bass & Piano Cadenzas
- The Court of the Crimson King
- Easy Money
- Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
- Radical Action II
- Level Five
- 21st Century Schizoid Man