Live Report - King Crimson - Uncertain Times Tour - 9th November 2018 - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK
Live Gig

Release year: 0
Reviewed by Goat

King Crimson are not the most listener-friendly, or just plain friendly, band but it says a lot about my fandom that I chose the prog legends over Slayer's farewell tour (happening the same night). The evening was hosted by the prestigious Bridgewater Hall, home to three resident orchestras and built a little over twenty years ago to replace a Victorian-era Free Trade Hall damaged in World War II. It has an unusual cast-concrete design set atop three hundred earthquake-proof steel springs intended to reduce vibration and outside noise, which would be enough to enhance any musicians' performance. King Crimson did their best to overcome this with their latest eight-strong line-up, which features three drummers set in front of the rest of the band; Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey, and Gavin Harrison. All were mixed loudly and nearly dominated the sound, but the rest of the band were equally loud in the mix and the result was about as noisy and heavy a performance as it was possible to get from a band originating in the late 1960s!

So many members in the band each with a heavy presence in the music makes for more of a mini-orchestral vibe than a rock concert, and accordingly the evening had an almost religious feel. Photographs were banned when the band (in suits) was playing, Fripp being known to stop concerts and walk out in the past when distracted by flashes, and the audience behaved themselves with a hushed respect for most of the evening which only broke down towards the end with a few unable to contain themselves and yelling their appreciation. Fair enough; by then we'd sat through two sets broken up by a short interlude that were simply magical. Opening with a drum flourish leading into the technical Indiscipline and the noisy Neurotica, the band played a solid mix of tracks from across their career with plenty of improvisation that made the evening unique and made up for the lack of new studio material in the last fifteen years. Pieces like Suitable Grounds For the Blues and Meltdown are new to those, like me, who mainly know King Crimson from their early albums but all flow perfectly into the performance alongside classics like Epitaph and One More Red Nightmare.

Each member had their moment in the sun and despite the lack of stagecraft or frills all were fun to watch. Bass legend Tony Levin switched from chapman stick to upright bass to electric bass and showed off his usual skill, sometimes becoming lost in the cacophony but rarely so. 1970s era saxophonist/flautist Mel Collins gave proceedings a jazzy or extra proggy touch with his frequent contributions, of course making Cirkus and Islands highlights, while I barely recognised Bill Rieflin at the keyboards, knowing him better as Ministry's 90s drummer! Vocalist Jakko Jakszyk had the closest to rock star behaviour, indulging in bit more swaying as he played guitar between vocal contributions (which although obviously no Greg Lake were terrific and never felt out of place, as I've seen some unfair criticism online state) and of course Robert Fripp barely moved from his seat in front of a mellotron, guitar in hand, like some mystical guru. He never acted like a guitar god and we can't blame him for not starting now in his 70s, yet his skill and influence is undeniable and seeing him felt like the musical equivalent of a pilgrimage.

Highlights were pretty much constant although particularly enjoyable was the mini-drum battles that opened Discipline and Indiscipline, the percussion leading the music while Fripp's staccato riffs acted as backing. The ConstruKCtion of Light reminded me that I still had much to explore in the band's later discography, whilst seeing Easy Money and Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two live scratched itches I've had ever since being blown away by discovering the band many years ago. And of course, by the time Starless and encore of 21st Century Schizoid Man came around to end the evening, there was absolutely nothing left wanting. Amusing as Gavin Harrison playing part of a drum solo on a bucket was at the time, I later discovered from the band's website that he had been suffering from food poisoning, was vomiting ten minutes before going on stage, and that the bucket was there in case he was ill again! What a professional. That really sums up the band's level of commitment, an attitude to music that treats it as the transcendental, downright holy force that it is, and one shared by a loving audience that I was lucky to be part of.

Killing Songs :
Goat quoted
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