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SENSORY STIMULATION

King Crimson/Nokia Theatre Times Square, New York/Aug. 17, 2008

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Flying under the radar of a summer filled with mega-tours (The Police being one) was the definitive progressive-rock group King Crimson, touring in tribute to its 40th anniversary as a group.

The Crimson lineup has changed through the years, but the one constant has been 62-year-old founder/guitarist Robert Fripp (above), who once again assembled a stunning lineup of expert musicians to interpret the band’s catalog of noncommercial songs.

The show turned out to be not a gleeful walk down memory lane, but an all-out attack on the senses.

As a prelude to the opening of the show, Fripp played about 10 minutes of his customary soundscapes (long interlocking waves of digital sound loops), but it was not a portent of things to come.

Except for “Walking on Air,” which slowed things down considerably (and was beautifully rendered by Adrian Belew‘s guitar and vocals), nearly every tune in the set was loud and full of intensity. This was heavy prog-rock of the first order, as the band segued from “The ConstruKction of Light” to “Red” to the infrequently played “Neurotica” and back and forth across the decades.

Anchored by Fripp and Belew, the band welcomed back Tony Levin (noted also for being a member of Peter Gabriel‘s touring band) to the fold after an absence of more than a dozen years. The addition of a second drummer Gavin Harrison from the band Porcupine Tree gave the band much-needed energy. The drum/percussion solos/duels between Harrison and Pat Mastelotto (a 14-year veteran of the band) were intense and surprising.

There were some improvs in the middle of the set that sounded like they were dress rehearsals for another album. King Crimson is no stranger to improvisation, and it delighted in changing the arrangement of such songs as “Sleepless” and “Three of a Perfect Pair.” The crowd was left standing during the encores (“Thela Hun Ginjeet” and “Elephant Talk”) and many fans moved near the stage to bask in the final moments of the tour.

All in all, the band sounded as well as they ever did. Fripp was up to his usual weirdness, preferring to sit off to the side of the stage when playing (placed in the shadows behind a stack of amplifiers and other gear) and standing off to the side of the stage clapping as the band took its bows. The only downside was the omission of “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “In the Court of the Crimson King,” two of the band’s strongest and most familiar songs.
King Crimson may not suit everyone’s taste, but it still manages to amaze its cult following some 40 years later.

— By Donald Gavron