“King Crimson is completely over. For ever and ever,” iconoclastic British guitarist Robert Fripp famously declared in 1974 after dissolving the groundbreaking band he founded five years earlier. Luckily for fans of his adventurous music, the dissonant siren's song of King Crimson has regularly called Fripp back to stage and studio. Though he made a similar pronouncement about retiring from the music business in 2012 due to frustrations from legal wrangling with the Universal Group — allowing Kanye West to sample the Crimson anthem “21st Century Schizoid Man” for the song “Power” without consulting Fripp was one of numerous grievances — the six-string avatar has returned to the road with a bold new lineup of the band featuring three drummers and collaborators from across several eras in Crimson's storied history.
The pioneering 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King helped codify some elements that became cornerstones of the progressive-rock movement, including the grand orchestral pomp of the Mellotron keyboard and a tendency towards apocalyptic and fantasy lyrical themes. But Fripp's embrace of unbridled improvisation and the menacing discord of Stravinsky and Bartok led the group down a far more challenging sonic path despite a revolving cast of players that changed with each album. By the time prog-rock contemporary Yes was bogged down in the ponderous conceptual bloat of 1973's Tales of Topographic Oceans, Fripp had poached the band's drummer Bill Bruford and assembled the ferocious version of the group that produced such metallic improv masterworks as Larks Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black.
The dissolution of Crimson after what many consider the crowning achievement of Red — a stunning mix of relentless riffs, thorny time signatures, and elegiac moods — ushered a period of eclectic creativity for Fripp. He delved deeper into the ambient tape-looping experiments he first explored with Brian Eno on No Pussyfooting as well as doing production work and contributing incendiary guitar on albums by David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Still, King Crimson would surface for the first of its periodic revivals in the early 1980s to craft three albums that injected global polyrhythms and electronic tone poems into the band's mutant jazz metal.
The current septet lineup marks the first time King Crimson will be performing without Talking Heads/Frank Zappa guitarist Adrian Belew since the band's first resurrection almost a quarter century ago, a change that had a significant impact on the selection of material for this tour.
The switch from Belew to guitarist/singer Jakko Jaksyzk opened the door for Crimson to revisit many long-neglected songs from the back catalog stretching back to the debut album. However, fans should not be expecting straight renditions of those classic tracks, particularly with the current group's frontline of three drummers.
“Robert's instructions to them had been quite a challenge: Simply reinvent rock drumming!” bassist Tony Levin says via email. The phalanx of longtime drummer Pat Mastelotto, 2008 addition Gavin Harrison of the band Porcupine Tree, and former Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin first convened to work out a method to their collective percussion madness. Once the entire group gathered for rehearsals, the musicians sought to look at songs from across the King Crimson timeline with a new perspective.
“We tried to approach all material as new, even if it'd been written some time ago,” Levin writes. “The sense was that we'd try a lot of material and see what the identity of the band would be.” The revamped takes of gems from Larks Tongues in Aspic and Red have been earning the band frothing reviews from fans and critics alike.
The inclusion of a few newly written pieces has also given loyal followers the promise that the current jaunt might mark another new beginning for the band, a feeling Levin shares. “I'm afraid I don't know the future plans,” writes Levin. “Like the fans, I hope there'll be new material, new recordings, and more.”