King Crimson @ The Lowry
"Starless mesmerises as it progresses along its twelve minute path like a ship on a vast, lonely ocean, before One More Red Nightmare causes unrest in the waves and batters the hull of HMS Crimson."
As King Crimson’s seven members walk slowly and dignifiedly onto stage to the sound of polite yet excited applause – their sharply dressed selves looking polished respectable under spotlights which are much more used to staging plays than they are progressive rock royalty – we are witnessing a shapeshifter at work. A band which was birthed in 1968 as a four piece pushing the boundaries of rock music – injecting jazz, classical and bewildering time signatures into the genre’s more linear blues based template – have twisted and contorted into many incarnations over the last 47 years. Only the mad genius of Robert Fripp remains from the quartet which began this saga – and tonight he doesn’t have the knees to stand without the aid of a stool. But under his command the band have seen members come and go, their countenance morph and camouflage with the changing of the seasons. From embracing elements of 80s pop on Discipline to giving their music an industrial edge on 2003’s The Power To Believe amid a backdrop where acts like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson were basking in popularity, they have always strived to evolve and maintain an air of relevancy.
Two years on in the wake of Fripp’s unexpected resurrection of the band as a touring act – four Englishmen and three Americans – and there is still a sense of pleasing surprise bubbling around the swish Lowry theatre pre-show. And that’s across an audience from old, balding rockers in age old tour shirts, to Slipknot shirt touting whippersnappers – oldies both excited to see the band for the first time and looking forward to another crack at the whip, whilst the younger generations never expected to have the chance to see this band. But two years on since their resurrection, contemporary King Crimson couldn’t be any more engaging.
Fronted by three drummers – three! – they've carved out yet another niche in a world where I thought I’d seen and heard it all. Together they complete each other’s fills like some sickly sweet couple finishing each other’s sentences, complimenting another’s tom-heavy thumping with jangly cymbal work or a bouncy beats. It’s mind-boggling how this is even possible to arrange and execute so flawlessly, but this Fripp we’re talking about and mind-boggling comes as easy as breathing to the 69 year old. As a trio, they are very much the focal point for a two hour plus show which seems to fly by.
After a delicate if traditionally uncomfortable King Crimson build-up, the booming and grandiose riff of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One explodes and the band make their presence felt. The acoustics in this huge, three-tiered auditorium are pristine and couple the Crimson tonalities wonderfully.
The riff that snakes atop Level Five’s jittery rhythms is almost doom rock at points which, alongside The ConstruKction of Light reverberates the fact that 21st century Crimson is still a palpable entity.
But of course, for fans young and old alike, the band’s vintage material was always going to steal the show. Jakko Jakszyk fronts the band on a sensational rendition of Epitaph, the words poetic and cutting, the music serene and mystical. In many ways this song sounds even better today than it does on recod, Jakszyk’s soulful delivery really bringing the song to life, worming into the audience’s collective and individual souls.
The epic Starless mesmerises as it progresses along its twelve minute path like a ship on a vast, lonely ocean, before One More Red Nightmare causes unrest in the waves and batters the hull of HMS Crimson. As it does, capped by Fripp and Jakszyk locked in a duelling harmony, the lights slowly turn the song’s namesake colour – the only real time the lighting changes. This isn’t a band that needs gimmicks to impress you – they leave that to the unbridled brilliance of their musicality.
The encore of Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row, a rousing run through of The Court of the Crimson King and the infamous ripples of 21st Century Schizoid Man, ends the night in style. The latter includes a stunning drum solo from ex-Porcupine Tree man Gavin Harrison, who deftly brings back the song from within the belly of his beastly moment in the spotlight. Then they down tool, make a quick bow and walk off stage. No words were said, no words were needed. An excellent evening of progressive music indulgence.
Words: Phil Weller