FIRST WE TAKE VIENNA

Sometimes it can feel as if contemporary versions of ‘classic’ rock outfits are more like a tribute band than the real thing. Not so with King Crimson.

Years ago, Robert Fripp made the memorable pronouncement that King Crimson exists when there is King Crimson music to be played. Seems that the need has never really abated.

What sets the progressive deity apart from other long-running acts is Fripp’s insistence that the music remain vital and relevant to contemporary audiences. This commitment is amply demonstrated on the album arising from Crimson’s 2016 tour, Live In Vienna.

Released in April 2018, this three CD set packs in a whole lot of music from all phases of King Crimson’s reign. Early piece such as “Pictures of a city” (In The Wake Of Poseidon, 1970) rubs shoulders with recent song “Suitable grounds for the blues” while “Cirkus” (Lizard, also 1970) is followed by “In discipline” (Discipline, 1981).

That last song raises a fascinating attribute of Live In Vienna (which, by the way, is a complete concert in two parts, CDs 1 and 2). The different incarnations of King Crimson are linked by the vision and guitar genius of Robert Fripp, yet the character of the band is strongly coloured by the vocals. From Greg Lake in the early days, through John Wetton and Adrian Belew, the voice delivering the words has varied markedly. How, then, does current guitarist/vocalist Jakko Jakszyk, cope with this half-century of songs?

The answer is, very well indeed. His voice is similar in range to Lake’s, making “21st Century Schizoid Man” (one of the encores on disc three) more than acceptable. Sensibly, Jakszyk does not even attempt to sound like Adrian Belew, claiming “Indiscipline” as his own by adding an entire vocal melody to the largely declaimed original. It work brilliantly and is a highlight of an electrifying set. It is with Wetton’s vocal lines that Jakszyk finds the biggest challenge; “Easy money” lacks the swagger Wetton brought to the somewhat salacious lyric. But just as you contemplate breaking out USA (live, 1975), you notice that the band has eased into an extended improvisation (deliciously coloured by reed work from that incomparable veteran, Mel Collins) and comparisons simply fade into the mysterious mesh of music… which even includes some neat vocalising from Jakko J. It is quirky, inventive, and enthralling.

 



With three drummers and a keyboardist, this 21st Century Crimson can create wonderfully detailed musical canvases, a skill seen both in the fresh (yet fully recognisable) arrangements of overlooked classics like “Sailor’s tale” (Islands, 1971) and even, delightfully, part of side two of Lizard, “Dawn song” from the title suite.

The third disc opens with “Heroes” (should that have double quotation marks?) and a fine interpretation it is too, with Fripp clearly relishing playing the guitar part that electrified David Bowie’s classic. Also worth mentioning (well, for Crimso fans, anyway) is the welcome return to live action of that mutant beast, “Fracture”. If anything shows the vitality of this version of KC, it is the Starless And Bible Black instrumental, born 1974, still gleefully smashing brains today. 

Live in Vienna, December 2016 may have taken fifteen months to reach fans, but this long-term Crimson devotee is duly grateful and is convinced other subjects will feel the same.

25 comments

  1. Some chums of mine went to see them play the whole of Red last weekend. The ticket prices put me off going unfortunately. I love red, but I need to stay in the black.

    Is this live in Vienna one for deep fans only?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. That would be a concert (or half a concert!) I’d probably dig deep for.

      As for this one, there are many many live KC albums (reckon I have about a dozen, just the tip of the old frozen water cone) but I found this one particularly enjoyable. It includes some classics, a few hidden gems, and uniformly exemplary playing. There’s even some soundscapey stuff at the end of CD3 that I decided not to write about. Definitely worth considering for quality and value. (Can I have my kickback now, Mr Fripp?)

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      1. I’ve been off work so I don’t know how it went yet. I shall report back.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Fripp’s suspicious old man stare on the cover.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A good likeness, I imagine!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I saw Crimson in Seattle several years ago, it was a memorable experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Memorably good, or…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Memorably awe inspiring. I took my two eldest boys and a friend who is a musician. We all agree it was the greatest musical experience ever. Fripp in the merchandise table with his sister.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Excellent. What I hoped to hear.

          Selling his own merch? Incredible.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Well his sister was selling and he was stood with an enigmatic smile observing and not interacting, strangely everyone left him alone.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. This sounds like a right treat, Bruce. It’s always nice to hear that a band who have had many changes over the years can retain that something that defines them… not just on studio recordings, but, as some would argue, where it matters.

    Shockingly, I have very little KC. Have always intended on picking stuff up, but you know what it’s like… and while I’m sure this isn’t a place to delve in, I’m definitely inspired to make sure I consume some KC soon.

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  5. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Nice to wake up to, this. Deep textures and self-assured geekdom, the best kind.

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  6. Bruce, please tell me they took Berlin as the next stop on the tour!
    I like that description of Fripp on heroes – it’s neat when that musician enjoyment is audible. When I saw GNR last year, Axl Rose looked to be genuinely relishing singing particular tunes again, which I wouldn’t have predicted from him!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the title is a set up, Geoff. Stay tuned!

      Finding enjoyment in a long-haul profession is a valuable skill, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. When they started the three drummers a few years ago, I thought for sure this was a one-off thing. But Fripp keeps using them, which I think is fantastic. They really add a punch to those songs. I really hope I can see them someday before all of this ends. Thanks for shining a light on a great band, Bruce. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure, Marty. Yes, I’d rush for a ticket too!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] to the carefully orchestrated performances of King Crimson, Øresund Space Collective are a much freer and looser affair. Here it is all about the vibe, man, […]

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  9. I’m going to live in this for the next few days.(when they came through my neck of the woods. Many people said it was the show of the year). This stuff is like strapping into the extended Coltrane, Monk, Mingus etc . Music that just takes me. The 3 drummers works for me. Thanks for the nudge. Again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure. I an easily picture you immersing yourself in this one, CB.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Huge fan, seen them twice before, but decided to ship the 2016 tour, even though I had the option.
    Later I have heard live CD material (Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) and my good it is great, what a terrible bad decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, we all have those ‘should have bought a ticket’ regrets. Next time, eh?

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  11. Listened to it and absolutely loved the music. I never waver on how much I like Fripp and this side of him. Reading your review again i’m with you. How come when bands like this pull out old stock it sounds fresh and not moldy? They cover so much of the library. Obviously I got hooked on the Bruford/Wenton duo (their version of ‘Easy Money’ is on of my fave pieces of music) but this is a celebration and it works. Mel Collins kind of brings a vibe from the beginning. Good stuff on the take and the music..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was nice historically and musically that Mel Collins was in the band and in such good form. Really glad you enjoyed the journey, CB.

      Liked by 1 person

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