LIVE: King Crimson with The Zappa Band @ SPAC, 08/23/2021
The “seven-headed beast” (Robert Fripp’s description) that is King Crimson roared into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Monday night, destroying all in its path.
Well, that’s a tad melodramatic, but it’s certainly safe to say that witnessing this incarnation of the legendary British progressive rock band is an intense experience.
Now in their 53rd year of existence, Crimson, led by the enigmatic, (mostly) benevolent dictator and guitarist Fripp, shows no signs of coasting into retirement. Their amazing canon of work, with Fripp the sole constant member in numerous lineups, is one of the richest and most diverse in music, any kind of music.
From the mellotron drenched grandeur of their 1969 debut “In the court of the crimson king” (which Pete Townshend hailed as “an uncanny masterpiece”) to the hard-hitting “Red”, on to the dizzying gamelan influenced polyrhythms of “Discipline”, material from most of the Crimson decades gets an airing in the 2-hour plus set.
What is truly unique in this version of the band is their powerful 3 drummer frontline. Their kits are set out at eye level, facing the audience.
From left to right we have Pat Mastelotto (ex Mister Mister), center stage the burly, bearded, bowler-hatted, Bonham lookalike Jeremy Stacey, and then ex Porcupine Tree percussionist Gavin Harrison. The rest of the band (Mel Collins – woodwinds, Tony Levin – bass, Jakko Jakszyk – guitar and vocals, and Fripp) are set up behind the percussionists on a raised level.
The tone is set right from the start with the 3 drummers playing “Hell Hounds of Crim” a steadily building pattern, before the rest of the band crashes in with “Pictures of a city”.
It was some time during the Rite of Spring on steroids- like jackhammer riffs of “Red”, or perhaps “Lark’s Tongues in aspic part 2,” with the drummers relentlessly carpet bombing the audience with explosions of percussive mayhem, that I realized that this smartly attired league of gentlemen (3 of whom are septuagenarians) are actually heaviness personified.
After an emotive and stately “Starless,” the band left the stage. They encored with perhaps their best-known song, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, whose heavy metal bebop crescendo brooks no argument. A maelstrom of guitar and sax skronk whirled, the drums surged again, and then …. silence, leaving the crowd stunned. It is rumored that this may be Crimson’s last tour. Hopefully not, but if so, they are not going quietly.
Opening in support was The Zappa Band, an outfit of former sidemen of the late iconoclast. Led by Mike Keneally on guitar and keys, and fronted by the soulful Ray White, they turned in an excellent set, relying heavily (to my delight) on Zappa’s mid-seventies output. It was great to hear such defiantly weird songs as “Andy”, “Florentine Pogen” and “City of tiny lights” in a live context again.