King Crimson brought their latest in a long list of lineups to Los Angeles on the first day of summer 2017. The two-set show on the longest day of the year was held fittingly at the iconic Greek Theatre, a beautiful outdoor amphitheater located on the forested slopes of Griffith Park.
The veteran rock band began their first set just before sunset to a stoic but attentive audience, most of whom arrived early to enjoy the beautiful first day of summer in the open venue. The eight-piece band featured one of the founding members of King Crimson, the progressive rock band that originally formed in 1968. Robert Fripp has been the de facto leader of the group since their founding and is the group's vocalist, lead guitarist, and synthesizer player. Magical Bassist Tony Levin has been a member of King Crimson since 1980, the same year he recorded and toured with Peter Gabriel on Gabriel’s debut solo album. Levin not only plays bass but also bass like synthesizer instruments that he helped invent, called sticks. His side project The Stickmen also features, drummer Pat Mastelotto, who along with drummers Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacy make up a unique three drummer line up in the current King Crimson. Keyboardist Bill Rieflin also occasionally percussions throughout the night. He has played with many notable bands since the 1990’s including Ministry, the Revolting Cocks, Lard, KMFDM, Pigface, Swans, Chris Connelly, and Nine Inch Nails. He also toured regularly with R.E.M. following the retirement of Bill Berry in 1997. The current King Crimson band is rounded out by vocalist and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk and Mel Collins playing a multitude of wind instruments.
The first set of the evening featured songs from the band's rich catalog of almost 50 years of recordings. The Greek Theater, being in an upscale residential area of Los Angeles, tends to limit sound levels for the first set of the evening, so the sunset hours of the show felt a bit more mellow than the later set. But the near perfect sound quality made up for the softer volume as the band showed their enormous talents playing the complex music. King Crimson began their rise to fame as a progressive rock band mixing, classical, jazz and heavy rock riffs to create a new genre back in the 1960’s. But the group, in part thanks to radical thinking of bassist Levin has managed to produce relevant experimental electronic rock across five decades. The band played eight tunes in their first set including, Songs such as “Islands” which was played during the current tour the first time since the ’70s. Also in the first set was “Fallen Angel,” and “Red” tracks from 1974’s album “Red” which was seldom heard live before the current tour, and a new song titled “Radical Action III” got a particularly vociferous crowd response.
An intermission ensued between sets and many music fans headed to the multiple bars in the venue. One fan could be heard talking about the nuances of the first set and proceeded to offer up his opinions. “Great set. I had tickets to Roger Waters tonight forgetting I already had tickets to King Crimson. I am so glad I am here and sold my tickets to Waters. This is my favorite band.” As twilight engulfed the venue during intermission, the theater began to light up, and the band returned for a second longer set. The band was lit with a plethora of old-fashioned canned lights so typical of last century rock concert light shows. With nary a LED light in sight, the old-fashioned lights seemed to create an eloquent halo about the band with a certain nostalgic panache. Photography of the concert was prohibited with large signs and video announcements warning the crowd. The obedient crowd obliged, and it was a rare welcome performance in the current selfie age without a single cell phone held aloft during the entire night.
The second set featured nine more songs, old and new. The increased volume was immediately noticeable as the second set began and helped the music take on a harder and more effective edge. It was evident in the second set that the three-drummer approach was a unique aspect of the latest incantation of King Crimson. The trio had several opportunities to battle it out in complimentary and competing rhythms.
The band returned for a three-song encore, which seems to be a staple on the current tour. The group began with an eloquent remake of David Bowie's “Heroes” which appears on a new live EP by the band. The band then played their signature classic rock hit, “The Court of the Crimson King” from the 1969 debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King. The band ended nearly three hours of music with an extended version of their classic hard rock hit “21st Century Schizoid Man”, also from their debut album. Summer Solstice with King Crimson will be a show well remembered by an adulating crowd of music fans.