Robert Fripp has often described King Crimson as either a “love letter” or a “hot date” when playing live. The latest (and third) volume in the King Crimson Collector Series is a recording from 1996 at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theater in London, 1996. While you may be writing love letters after hearing these two discs, this performance is most assuredly a “hot date”. In fact, it’s a hot date that could cause men to trip all over themselves, mouth agape while stopping traffic all at the same time. Of the many Live Crimson gigs I have in my collection, this may very well be the top performance I’ve heard from the band, regardless of it’s various incarnations throughout the years.
The California Guitar Trio was scheduled to open the show, but had to cancel out at the last minute. Robert Fripp stepped up to the plate and performed a fantastic opening set of Soundscapes, all of which is included in the first 24 minutes of Disc One. Subtle and anamorphic, the Opening Soundscape is a great performance by Fripp as he interweaves various sounds and textures creating a memorable first track that is literally the calm before the storm which is to come.
The King Crimson set proper opens with Bill Bruford, Pat Mastelotto, and guitarist Adrian Belew (who started out as a drummer) playing a short but intricate drum solo entitled, “Conundrum” before launching with the rest of the band into a searing version of “Thela Hun Jinjeet”. The Crimson staple, “Red” is next, with the usual pyrotechnics of Robert Fripp on electric guitar, as Tony Levin and Trey Gunn interweave Chapman Stick and Warr Guitar (respectively) around a precise percussion attack of Bruford and Mastelotto.
The introspective “Waiting Man” follows, with some beautiful vocals by Belew and great electronic percussion and guitar textures throughout. A fantastic version of a personal favorite “Three Of A Perfect Pair”, is followed by an improv that precedes a mind-numbing version of “VROOM VROOM” featuring stunning work by Bruford; his snare cutting through and punctuating the wonderful cacophony of sound. “Sex, Sleep Eat Drink Dream”, “VROOM”, and “Coda Marine 475” close out the electrifying first set, leaving you almost exhausted from the sheer energy of the first disc’s performance; yet hungry for the second set on the next disc...and it doesn’t disappoint either.
Opening with the classic “Larks Tongues In Aspic Part II”, this tune exemplifies the monstrous musical chops displayed by the Double Trio. The interplay between Bruford and Mastelotto is phenomenal as their drumming propels this song to new heights. Tony Levin’s Stick hold down the bottom of the grove nicely interlocking with the instrumental complexities of Gunn’s Warr guitar, as the electronic assaults of Belew and Fripp on guitar bombard the listener with syncopated mayhem. Without a doubt, this is probably the best live version I have ever heard of this song.
With the second set standard set, King Crimson raises the bar even high with astonishing performances of “Frame By Frame”, “Matte Kudasai”, the Bruford/Mastelotto percussion vehicle “B’Boom”, and “THRAK”. To top it off, a barn-burning rendition of “21st Century Schitzoid Man” follows; the first time this song has been performed in 22 years. Closing with “Indiscipline” and followed by the two encores, “Prism” and “Elephant Talk” the album ends satisfyingly.
The performance was recorded directly from the band’s original 2 track stereo soundboard mix, and as stated on the label is, “very fine”. I actually think it sounds a bit better than that. The only disadvantage to a soundboard mix is that you pick up a lot of the audience proper, including (shall we say) some rather “enthusiastic” fans. For some, this might be a detraction but for others such as myself, it’s part of the fun.
This is an essential live document of the Double Trio, and is highly recommended for both the King Crimson fanatic, and those looking for stellar performances and music.
Reviewed by K. Austin Walsh on August 9th, 2008