King Crimson Were Note Perfect at the Greek: One of the great injustices in music is that prog rock is all too often accused of sacrificing emotion, passion and raw honesty in favor of technical precision and a near-scientific approach. In fact, the two trains of thought aren’t mutually exclusive. Jazz has taught us many things, and one of those things is that music can be carbon-to-diamond tight while also full of feels. Classical music too.
King Crimson has known this for decades. Robert Fripp passed the knowledge (and his New Standard Tuning) to former students the California Guitar Trio, and they opened the show with aplomb at the Greek Theatre on Friday night.
Another artist who knew that passion doesn’t have to be sacrificed to make way for expertise was Frank Zappa, and the main support to King Crimson on this tour is the Zappa Band. Like the Grandmothers of Invention and Zappa Plays Zappa, the Zappa Band features a handful of Frank’s former bandmates performing his music. For those of us who didn’t have the opportunity to see Frank perform, this is the best we can get and it’s damn good.
The band is composed of Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Ray White, Robert Martin, Joe Travers and Jamie Kime. All but the latter two performed with Frank, and even Travers and Kime performed with Zappa Plays Zappa. It’s an accomplished set of musicians then, and they do the old master proud. “I Ain’t Got No Heart,” from the classic Freak Out!, is a highlight but there are many. It’s impossible to see the grins on the crowd’s faces when the band closes with “Andy,” due to the masks, but we know they’re there.
Back to the headliners then. People such as this writer, who had never seen King Crimson before this gig, might complain that they didn’t play “The Court of the Crimson King” (despite apparently playing it every other night of this tour), but that’s a small gripe.
A King Crimson show is no ordinary rock concert. The stage set-up, with three drum kits across the front, and the other four members on a riser behind them, makes that immediately obvious. It’s more an orchestral performance than anything, and Fripp is the conductor. Throughout, he’s casting an eye over everything. You sense that he’s mentally taking notes, and anything that doesn’t sit right with him will be addressed later.
Initially, you wonder if three drummers is necessary. It doesn’t necessarily beef up the sound, but then you realize that that’s not the point. Rather, it’s the flourishes, the subtle intricacies, that three drummers allows that makes it worth it. At times, the way that the three tub thumpers are in synch is simply stunning.
Photos aren’t allowed until they’re finished, hence the pictures from a different show here. They don’t need any distractions, and when the results are this spell-binding that little conceit is forgivable. The set list, despite no “COTCK,” is fantastic. The likes of “Pictures of a City,” “Islands” and “Starless” stretch out over the evening as the musicians go wild with each other. And the closing “21st Century Schizoid Man” is dark and glorious.
Three bands then, and no noticeable bum notes. Yet all the passion in the world.