In the court of the Crimson King

When I spoke with Trey Gunn after seeing King Crimson at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, MD, he agreed with my comment that it was a great show, saying that they didn't expect such a terrific response. The band was spectacular, and the crowd response matched the energy and the sheer exuberance of the band, leading to a highly synergistic performance. It was one of the best concerts I've seen.

It was clear from the beginning that Crimson were in great form, and comments I had read about them being tired due to constant touring seemed incongruous. Right from the stunning opening duet by the percussionists to the second encore featuring Vroom, the band displayed great enthusiasm for their art.

One of the things that amazed me most during the show was that it was incredibly heavy. In my time, I've seen a lot of bands that play heavy and harsh music, but I don't think I've been to a concert with such a weighty sonic barrage. And that was all that was needed for King Crimson---the set was highly minimalistic and any extraneous visual displays would have simply detracted from watching the greats at work.

Pat Mastelotto and Bill Bruford were in perfect synch, as if they could almost read each others' minds. Throughout the show, they appeared to be having a great deal of fun, and they complemented each other greatly. While people around me were chanting "Bruford! Bruford!" when the drum trio (with Adrian Belew) were going full-speed as part of the first encore, all I could do was gape in awe at their amazing technical skill and their self-indulgence.

Something I hadn't realised, never having seen King Crimson live, is that Adrian Belew is a true front man, and a bit of a ham at that. From the orange fluorescent guitar to taking a power drill to his instrument, to making his guitar (and the audience) laugh, his actions more than made up for Fripp's aloofness. I am not completely comfortable with Belew singing in King Crimson, and live, I didn't like it at all during the first couple of tunes. But as the show progressed, I got used it and I thought there were some brilliant vocal moments towards the end (more so than his guitar work itself).

Tony Levin switched between an upright (a Steinberger?) and a regular bass, and he was on cue, never missing a beat.

Trey Gunn was one of the more interesting people to watch, playing the Warr guitar in his own unique fashion. Unfortunately the mix wasn't the best I've heard at Merriweather Post, and he was sometimes lost. But during the quieter parts, his haunting Warr guitar, which dominates more in his latest solo release The Third Star complimented his hypnotic motions on stage.

Robert Fripp played all the cool parts. Shielded in the back, between the two percussionists, he fit the role of the Crimson King well. I think he too was impressed by the crowd response.

The best part of the new King Crimson is their noisemaking, something which I believe goes back to their very early recordings. While the catchy songs have the greatest crowd appeal, the best part of their evening was when they Thrakked. The intensity of the dynamics in volume, during the quiet and loud parts, are what really attract me to the music of this phenomenal band.

Masque, featuring Vernon Reid on the guitar set the pace for the evening. Reid's guitar work was as dissonant as ever, and it formed an unique blend of hip-hop, jazz, and metal with the rest of the band's instruments. Particularly impressive was a clarinet player (Don Byron), and the triggering of the samples added a noisy overtone to the band's sound. I didn't get into the rapping vocalist at all. Reid's band performed from his album Mistaken Identity, and from the performance, it looks like it's definitely something worth checking out.

Going back to King Crimson, their set list (in no particular order) included Thela Hun Ginjeet, Red, Dinosaur, One Time, Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, The Sheltering Sky, Three of a Perfect Pair, Elephant Talk, Indiscipline, 21st Century Schizoid Man, and Waiting Man. In retrospect, from Trey Gunn's comments, it is clear that King Crimson's show improved in a colinear fashion with the crowd response. It's also evident that they got a lot out of the crowd's support, and if you see them, be sure to talk all your friends with you, and cheer aloud.

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || August 26, 1996