Tuesday 18th June -
Thursday 20th June 2019
Royal Albert Hall, London
. . . . and so, it came to pass that after 50 years from its formation and inception, the Crimson King gathered its loins once again to tour and celebrate this momentous occasion by performing fifty gigs around the world. Dear old Albert and his Hall were chosen for three of these UK only dates, only being beaten by four dates in Mexico City; to come. No mean feat to fill the hall on three consecutive nights, but . . . given the legacy of this band and the ‘beyond obsession’ of its acolytes, an easy task. A strong contingent dug deep and entered into the spirit, coming to worship at the high altar every night. I was one. Robert Fripp, everlasting member and guitarist unique, had got this one worked out. For each night at the RAH, Robert woke up each morning and depending upon which side of the bed was exited, penned the evenings spoils. Mid-morning frantic revision was induced in each band member just to ensure their lines were perfect, especially of the less often played numbers. The knowledge of this gross variation in material each night was the dangled carrot for us mere mortals. We were not disappointed. We did not miss out, as each night was different, not only in choice but running order. Yes, there were staple pieces but the variety created aural implosion. I could spend this piece on analysis of what was in, what was out, what was played each night, what was played only once, but embracing the whole three nights is what follows:
Starting at the front, for the uninitiated, the current King has a trio of drummers. All reading from left to right, Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison. These three melded, syncopated, shifted the time signatures, and on/off metered themselves into one. Individually they shone, briefly, but the technical interplay was as one, one giant percussive kit. This is the best I can try to visualise for you. Hugely rehearsed, massive amount of three way cues all night, but clever; nothing is left to chance. After watching these three play on consecutive nights I can only grasp a small percentage of the level and complexity they work on. Hugely untouchable. Plus, Jeremy plays some fine keyboard sections too; no mean feat in matching, often bettering (on some nights), Keith Tippett.
Reaching backwards we come to Mel Collins (sax/flute), Tony Levin (bass/stick), Jakko Jakszyk (vocals/guitar) and Robert Fripp (guitar/keys). I struggle to explain the dexterity, each are master in their own class, but it’s the ability to switch from grossly, and I mean insane, time signatures and ‘memory muscle’ fingering to deft, space ridden (read ‘rest’ in musical terms) sections of sheer beauty and bliss. For me, having followed the band from that fateful day in 1969 when 'In the Court of the Crimson King' was released, this is the Crimson that has taken all this time to gestate. Hugely pinnacle scaling. I will never fully understand the structure, as over each night the commonly played material gives out new nuances, constantly shifting its shape and gently massaged over time. If I point out the wondrous tone that Robert can extract, yet better it the following night, I’d have to mention all the other musicians’ offerings; and space I don’t have here.
In a very succinct conclusion: There’s no band that, in my honest opinion, can give such an intense performance, touch every emotion, are totally irreplaceable, and command adoration night after night (by the same people possibly). Yes, they do need the odd night off as by the third night I spotted the odd misdemeanour, but three nights on the trot, for over six hours in total is a lot to assimilate. Likely to be draining for those that generate this wonderful amount of music, which it was. I know for a fact that Robert dislikes the term ‘Progressive’, it’s not anymore, its Crimson in type, Crimson in nature, Crimson in performance, a truly ‘hot date’. With three nights of varying degree of hot date I’m satiated, but only until the next time.
Voting: Best night in its class: Thursday 20th, probably as my seat was in the stalls, one third of the way round from the stage. The full experience of the PA and resulting mix was felt and heard, even in the vastness of Albert's Hall. Previous two nights were on the floor in the arena, the middle night, for me, being row four and caught most of the natural sounds from the three drummers at stage lip and tended to dominate at times. As for musical prowess, can’t split, all seven, all six plus hours, just unbelievably outstanding, words fail . . .