At The Warehouse in Toronto on Friday REVIEWED BY
It is a little bit ironic, and perhaps just a little bit sad, that despite a career that has lasted (off and on) for more than 30 years, the best remembered songs from progressive rock pioneers King Crimson remain to this day the ones from its 1969 debut album. Classic rock radio is still in love with such songs as In The Court Of The Crimson King and 21st Century Schizoid Man, even though Crimson founder and stalwart Robert Fripp has long since left them behind.
But it must be the enduring popularity of those very songs that continues to draw the fans. It seems almost inconceivable that the band could continue to draw as well as it does (there must have been well over a thousand over-30 males at the club Friday night) given that its current recorded output fits into absolutely no radio format anywhere. No blame can be laid at the feet of radio programmers either, given that listening to present-day Crimson is an incredibly demanding experience.
The latest incarnation of King Crimson still features Fripp, of course (the anti-rock star, he is professorial and taciturn on stage, never talking, barely acknowledging his adoring cult), and is rounded out by long-time sideman Adrian Belew on guitars, with Trey Gunn on bass and Pat Mastelotto on drums. It's a highly accomplished outfit, but one that seems to perform more for its own enjoyment than that of the audience.
Friday's set list was almost totally dominated by numbers from the band's latest CD, The ConstruKction of Light. These songs fall somewhere between the traditional progressive rock structures of the early seventies and the jazz/rock fusion experiments of the eighties and nineties, as if Steve Vai or Eric Johnson were fronting a reformed version of Yes or Genesis.
At times, this version of Crimson hinted at commercial potential. ProzaKc Blues, for example, was a powerful rocker that fell somewhere between the classic sound of Crimson and the current direction of industrial rockers like Nine Inch Nails. It was ultimately scuttled, though, by Belew's affected vocals, that sounded more like Louis Armstrong that Trent Reznor. And numbers such as Coda: I Have A Dream and Into The Frying Pan dropped bits of Beatles-like harmonies and Yes/Genesis riffing and melody into what was ultimately the most commercial sounding King Crimson music in years.
But as is their wont, the quartet ultimately managed to push the envelope too far, delving into pointless instrumental Sturm und Drang on numbers such as Lark's Tongues in Aspic Part IV and the album's title cut.
When it was all over, the band managed to milk a couple of encores. But one couldn't help but wonder if the reason the crowd kept calling them back was in the vain hope that Fripp would resurrect those above-mentioned classics. It didn't happen. After all, why would one need to hear 21st Century Schizoid Man when one can watch a quartet of them.