King Crimson in Concert: A Love Letter on the Occasion of – A Final Hot Date?

Robert Fripp, resplendent with mohawk, at August 28th’s Royal Package presentation.

A studio album is a love letter. And I enjoy love letters, especially when they’re from my wife. But live music … (looking to the heavens with a sigh) I’ll always go for the clinches.

Robert Fripp, King Crimson Royal Package presentation

King Crimson, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre, Rochester Hills, Michigan, August 28, 2021

Following an opening set from The Zappa Band that showcased Frank Zappa’s lifelong trademarks — smug, satirical vignettes enfolded in gleefully virtuosic workouts — King Crimson went straight for the clinches. The rock (as in the opener “Pictures of A City” and “Radical Action II”) rocked hard; the metal (including “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two” and “Level Five”) was remorselessly heavy; the out there material (“Neurotica” and “Indiscipline,” played back to back) went waaaaay out there; the more intricate music (the opening multi-part drum trio, along with “Discipline,” a welcome surprise in the setlist) shone with both precision and passion.

Left to right: Mel Collins, Tony Levin, and Jakko Jakszyk groove on “Neurotica,” as Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison wait to pounce. Photo by King Crimson manager David Singleton. Click here to access Singleton’s online diary for the show.

To be fair, the genres — along with the era a song may have come from — are never that clear cut with this Crimson, even within individual pieces. The mid-section of “Pictures of A City” saw Mel Collins pushing at the boundaries of tonality with his sax solo, egged on by Robert Fripp’s banjo-from-hell guitar chords. Tony Levin’s inventive bass lines on “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Red” and “Larks Two” honored the original work of Greg Lake and John Wetton while adding his own spin to spur on Collins and Fripp. And the drum battle that opens “Indiscipline” turned into a comedic cutting contest, as Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison moved from flashing their chops to cracking up each other with their contributions. (Harrison’s deadpan disco snippet got the audience laughing too.) By treating everything as brand new, the band gracefully transcends the multiple eras in which these varied musics were birthed.

With a shorter setlist than recent tours and fewer surprise choices in the mix, what stood out for me this evening were the ballads — “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Islands,” “Epitaph” and “Starless”. Even the two guys sitting in back of me who talked through a good chunk of the show shut up for them! Vocalist/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk stood and delivered, drawing old emotions and new insights from the lyrics as he sang. And the ensemble coalesced around him with palpable intensity, cradling the vocals, then conjuring up the ironic circus of “Court,” the serene seascape of “Islands” (kudos to Stacey for his luscious piano work), the bleak cultural devastation of “Epitaph.” The endlessly mounting tension of “Starless” was, as always, a high point — melancholy and uplifting at the same time, grabbing for the audience’s heart as it built and cracking psyches wide open as the double time finale took flight. After that, what could be the encore but a slamming “21st Century Schizoid Man,” complete with Levin prodding Fripp and Collins to even greater extremes and a kit-spanning drum excursion by Harrison?

The band takes a bow following “Starless.” Photo by King Crimson manager David Singleton.

I make no secret of my admiration for King Crimson; Robert Fripp and his various co-conspirators have formed my ideal of the questing musician’s life and work since I stumbled into a Frippertronics record store show back in 1979. And I’ve never hesitated to sing the praises of the current Crimson incarnation; their 2017 and 2019 tours yielded two of the best rock concerts I’ve ever attended. So it moved me that, with the COVID-19 pandemic delaying this show for a year and throwing numerous obstacles in their path, Crimson could return to the States and provide another genuinely awe-inspiring evening for the thousands gathered in this Detroit-area amphitheatre. Never say never; but if (as Crimson’s management has stated) this may the final time the band plays North America, I’m convinced that we shall not see their like again.

Band and audience seen in 360 degrees at the final bow. Photo by Tony Levin; click here to access his online diary for this show.

Setlist (as assembled by Robert Fripp):

  • Drumsons – Bish! The Way to Universal Peace and Amity
  • Pictures of A City
  • Red
  • The Court of the Crimson King (with coda)
  • Tony (Levin bass) Cadenza’s Wernacious Slitheriness
  • Discipline
  • Neurotica
  • Indiscipline
  • Islands
  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two
  • Epitaph
  • Radical Action II
  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Five (Level Five)
  • Starless
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man (including Gavin Harrison drum solo)

— Rick Krueger

8 thoughts on “King Crimson in Concert: A Love Letter on the Occasion of – A Final Hot Date?

  1. Looking forward to seeing them here in Tokyo in early December. Ticket secured to coincide with the ending of my self-isolation following my return from the UK. Hope the setlist is as good as this one. Will be spending my quarantine days catching up with them on my CD collection before the live event.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. edward f leslie

    Finally got to see them in 2019, and it was glorious. i’ve been to 100’s/ ,maybe 1000’s of shows and it’s a top ten. an unreal show of expert musicianship.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for writing about the show it was a truly deep and wonderful time!!! Wife and I had tickets in upper pavilion but took my favorite seats atop a hill in the tree line to the side of the stage.. Sounds are so intense up there and then the noises of the forest pipe up as night comes on and mist..Awesome show so much I could say.. My second time, first was around 2002 in Detroit at the Majestic Theater i was right up front, Belew was with them and broke a string he said “only in Detroit”.. it was a rocker of a show.. Unfortunately the times have been so hard here we missed so many concerts, still made many important shows but would have seen much more if we could.. i hope Crimso continues as long as they want and in whatever form.. Fripp is such a powerhouse of a contemporary artist.. Love the album art and the tour poster, do you know who the artist is? My parents had Court of the Crimson King in their widely varied album collection and I spent much time laying on the floor head next to the speakers staring / inspecting the album art so many greats.. I know the story of Barry Godber and the first album, I would love to know about the album art evolution and who the artists are.. There work has greatly inspired this 47 year old artist!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kruekutt

      I think I may have been at that show at the Majestic. I think they played two nights there on that tour; I was there the first night (a Sunday).

      This year’s tour poster/program cover (as well as those from 2017 on, is by Francesca Sunstad, the wife of former Crimson drummer Bill Rieflin. Sunstad passed away from lymphona in 2019; Rieflin died of cancer the following year.

      Crimson frequently featured the work of P.J. Crook in the 1990s and early 2000s. Sid Smith’s book In the Court of the Crimson King has at least anecdotal information regarding some of the other cover art and artists. Hope this is helpful!

      Liked by 1 person

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