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King Crimson

Audio Diary 2014-2018

Review by Gary Hill

This new five-CD collection is pretty amazing. I've said before, and will repeat it here, that this new version of King Crimson might well be the best lineup they've had, particularly in terms of live shows. They are able to replicate the diverse sounds from across the career and bring then into a modern conglomerated setting in a way that I don't think all the versions of the group have been able to do. So, having all these live recordings in one place is great. Each CD represents songs from one year, with various tunes coming from different shows. This is an exceptional package overall, and I've put together a bonus video bit to showcase some of the packaging magic included in this thing. Suffice it to say that the sound quality and performances are all top-notch, too.

Bonus video footage of this release is available at the Music Street Journal Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfFa6zM-Ls8

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 2. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2020.

Track by Track Review
CD One
                       
2014
                
Hoodoo

A loud blast of sound brings this into being. There are moments of silence interspersed between more blasts. There are definitely freeform jazz vibes to this, and the cut has a real Rock in Opposition feel to it. This is strange, but also intriguing and rather tasty.

Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Tuned percussion is the order of business as this starts. After a time the other instruments join and we're off into this Crimson classic. The jazz and hard rocking edges of the piece are all delivered with flair and style. The flute exploration late in the track lends some real contrast. The weird sort of backdrop vocal on the build up from there feels particularly crazed. I love how when it feels like it's ready to explode it resolves into a pretty and quite melodic movement. That section holds it nicely to the end.
A Scarcity of Miracles
This comes in with some cool guitar sounds. That's alternated with a horn as the cut continues. After a time the rhythm section joins and we're brought into more of band-type arrangement to continue. It's melodic and pretty as it works forward. This becomes the first song of the set to feature actual vocals. The tune has a great melodic sound that is part jazz while still retaining its progressive rock basis.
Level Five
A real screamer from the start, this is a prime of example of the more modern hard-edged sound of King Crimson. It's a powerhouse number that still manages all kinds of shifts and changes. It still manages to link to older King Crimson, as well. There are some jazzy elements that show up here and there.
One More Red Nightmare
While I love this version of the song, I prefer John Wetton's vocals from the original version. Still, this is a great live take on a classic song. They capture all the magic and dynamic range of the piece. The instrumental section has such magic and power here.
Interlude
This is what you might guess, an instrumental interlude. While it's largely mellower, it has some more powered up bits. It's suitably strange, while also slow moving.
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Essentially a tuned percussion workout, this serves as another interlude, really.
The Talking Drum
There is a sense of tension brought about from a soundtrack-like element as this track opens. The drums begin to create their tapestry amidst that sound. Eventually it shifts out to quite a potent jam. This is another classic Crimson number delivered with style and power.
21st Century Schizoid Man
Speaking of classic King Crimson songs, this thing was so far ahead of its time when it was originally released that it still manages to sound fresh today. It's a smoking hot number, and they deliver a great live performance of it. There is some seriously jazzy stuff brought in during the extended instrumental movement. This also includes a rather extensive drum solo.
The Light of Day
There is a mellower opening movement on this. The cut works out from there to more rocking stuff, but it's tempered by mellower sections as it continues. There is a killer instrumental movement that has a spacey kind of texture.
CD Two

                  

2015
                    
Radical Action / Meltdown

Coming in a bit tentatively, this works out to some more crazed stuff. It's hard-edged and rocking, while also coming from weird angles and working through unusual movements. The second half of this features some great melodic rock vocals and a classic circling kind of guitar presence.  The horn soloing is cool, too.

Interlude
This is a bass solo as it starts. Flute joins after a time. The arrangement fills out a bit as they move into some spacey zones.
Sailor's Tale
Powering in with some seriously jazzy textures, this thing really rocks and grooves. There is a drop back later and some pretty crazed guitar comes over the top of that. That works through for a while, and eventually other elements fill things out as it continues.
The Letters
This classic mellower tune gets a killer live telling here. I love the cool jazzy instrumental exploration later in the piece. That section gets noisy as it reaches new heights. It eventually returns to the song proper to finish things out.
The Court of the Crimson King
Here we get a live version of one of the band's best known songs. They deliver the main song portion with a lot of style and charm. They do some great work with the instrumental movement. In fact, I'd consider it an improvement over the original in that regard.
Starless
This is my all-time favorite King Crimson song. In fact, I'd consider it to be the quintessential progressive rock tune. This live take really manages to capture the magic of the studio number.
Easy Money
I've always loved the hard rock meets jazz concept on this number. This live telling does a great job of updating the concept of the original version while still paying tribute to it. I love the cool instrumental exploration on this.
Pictures of a City
The opening jam on this is so tasty with it's cool jazz groove. This thing really represents so much of the best of the jazz-end of the King Crimson sound. It's a climbing, growing jam that works so well here. The vocal section brings some killer rocking texture. The instrumental section later in the cut delivers some great variety and musicality. When it comes back into the song proper later, it is purely on fire.
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
This thing powers in with some killer King Crimson variants on the blues. It moves out to more of a dropped back jam for the first vocals. It powers up as it continues. While you can actually hear the basis of a simple blues concept in the framework of this thing, there is nothing simple about this thing. It's a powerhouse King Crimson jam that presents a real twist on the concept. This has some seriously hard rocking moments built into it.
The Construkction of Light
The bass-type stick line that brings this in is trademark Tony Levin. The cut works through by creating alterations and variants on that musical concept. This thing continues to explore sonic territory in an instrumental way. This is very much the kind of thing one expects from the 80s and 90s incarnations of King Crimson. It's also especially effective.
Level Five
This powers in hard-edged and works through some killer Crimson texture. This is very much built on the heavier, meaner sounding Crimson of the 90s. This live recording does a great job of capturing that sound.
CD Three

                

2016
             
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

Coming in rather noise-driven, this works out to the familiar tones of the Crimson classic. It's another strong live version of a killer tune. This thing gets so powerful before it's all over. The closing bit seems more involved than the studio take of the cut.

Epitaph
This has always been one of my favorite King Crimson songs. Its balladic approach has so much beauty and nuance built into it. I love the guitar that gracefully soars over the top of the introduction in this live take. It drops to just drums as the backdrop for the first vocals. Synthesizer joins from after a bit. The cut starts to gradually gain some instruments and power as it evolves. While I prefer Greg Lake's original vocals to some degree, the musical arrangement here seems to have more immediacy and power. That more than makes up for any difference in the singing. This is quite a strong rendition, really.
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
Here we get a killer drum showcase. I'm not a huge fan of drum solos, but this multi-musician workout is an exception. This works into the next number.
Red
Red is my favorite King Crimson studio album. This title track powers in with so much power and magic here that it really stands so tall. The expanded horn presence brings something fresh to it, and the whole thing really rocks like crazy.
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
The piece we heard on the first CD gets another telling here. The tuned percussion concepts have a real tribal vibe to them.
Cirkus
Piano brings this into being. The vocals come in over the top of that arrangement. The cut turns crazed as it powers up for the instrumental break. As it works back to the next vocal movement it has a more powered up rock version of the arrangement. At the end of that, we're taken back into the weirdness to continue. The piece continues by revisiting the two main sections, with each version more powered up than the previous one. There are some powerful musical moments built into this thing as it continues. It gets quite intense before it's over.
Radical Action II
This is a screaming hot hard rocking King Crimson jam. It's sort of an instrumental connecting piece here.
Pictures of a City
This is another repeat visitor. As much as I liked the other version, I think I prefer this one. It sounds closer to the studio take in some ways, but at the same time it has more of a fierce energy to it. The powerhouse jam later in the track is purely on fire.
Peace
A sedate tune, this gets an intriguing live telling here. It serves as a nice respite between two powerhouses, but has never been one of my favorites. At just under two-minutes, it's short.
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Here we get another repeat. This comes in perhaps closer to the way the studio version sounded. It works out to the screaming hot jamming in style. This gets so crazed as it continues exploring its musical territory. I love the addition of the horns later in the cut. There is a jam around the half-way point that feels rather unique to this rendition and has some Levin trademarks. That gives way to a drop-back for a flute exploration. When it comes out of that it's so intense.
Easy Money
Another that is a repeat, this take is potent. I think I prefer the vocal performance on this recording to that of the earlier one. There are some great bits of weirdness in the arrangement. I really dig the cool space jazz exploration they move into later in the number, too.
21st Century Schizoid Man
This one has a bit meaner vibe to it than the previous take did. It is still every bit a powerhouse cut. They turn this into a killer jazz rocking jam mid-track that is purely on fire. Some tune percussion later in the instrumental movement leads to some almost tribal drumming. That gives way to a full percussion break that is pretty extensive. They eventually take it back into the song proper for a smoking hot treatment.
CD Four

                           

2017

                      

Cirkus

Another repeat, piano opens this number, and the vocals join to deliver the first lyrics. This version feels a bit closer to the original studio sound. It has a lot of power and some cool strangeness built into it, too. There are some great bits of circus music in the mix.

Starless
Here we get another live take on my favorite KC song. Again, this feels closer to the studio version to me. This has some particularly strong moments, but the whole piece is just great. The jazzy zones later in the track get some interesting flavors, too. There are some more modernized textures beyond that part at times.
The Letters
This feels like it has more emotion built into it than it did in the earlier take, particularly in the early portions of the cut. They put in some pretty crazy and free-form Rock in Opposition like jamming on this thing.
Heroes
Here they Crimsonize a classic David Bowie song. I love the soaring guitar sounds on this, and they bring a psychedelic edge to it, too.
Interlude
Classical string sounds create a rather dramatic texture and flute solos over the top of that. Eventually some guitar joins in a rather mysterious and understated way.
Last Skirmish
This is fiery and fierce. It has so much meat driving it. They really create a nice blending of modern and classic King Crimson sounds on this stomper.
Indiscipline
Here they tackle the Adrian Belew era of the band. There aren't a lot of vocals built into this version. What vocals are there are sung instead of the spoken way Belew did them. The crazed guitar here really captures the magic of the studio take, though.
Dawn Song
Starting with a gong crash, from there mellow tones take over. The cut gradually works outward after that. This is a short and rather classically based piece.
Prince Rupert's Lament

Drums create the backdrop for soaring guitar exploration on this number.

The Errors
This cut has hard rock and jazz merged into one of the more mainstream arrangements of the set. For some reason this feels just a bit like James Bond theme music to me. It's a cool cut with some intriguing shifts and turns. A movement around three-and-a-half-minute mark brings some definite movement from mainstream, but the cut works back from there to the song proper.
Fallen Angel
Another cut from the Red album, I love this song. This live take really captures the feel of the studio take in so many ways. They really manage to deliver on the fiercer sections of the piece very well, too.
Neurotica
The rhythm section opens this thing. The driving bass sounds are so cool as it makes its way forward. Jazzy elements power over the top as they continue in a frantic and crazed progression. The closing section is so potent.
Islands
Starting mellow with an arrangement based largely on piano and voice, this grows out with style from there. While the cut gets some other instrumentation, it doesn't really rise up into rocking zones for the first seven minutes or so. There is a classy saxophone solo around the middle of the track. The cut gets into some classy, more powered up melodic prog late in its run.
CD Five
               
2018
                       
The Court of the Crimson King

This version of the classic song feels so much like the studio rendition. In fact, this whole tune really has so much of that original sound that it's almost scary. The vocals manage to pull if off with flair, too.

Suitable Grounds for the Blues
Crazy piano brings this into being. They work out from there into a killer somewhat off-kilter and twisted jam that is very cool. It gets into the song proper from there. It gets pretty crazed at times.
Pictures of a City
This version of the cut might have some of the hardest rocking moments of its delivery on the whole disc. The jazzy things work so well on this take, too, though. The cut shifts into some seriously crazed and inspired jamming later along the road.
Meltdown
Starting as one expects, this moves into a killer rendition of the cut. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but rather just a particularly potent performance.
Bolero
Here we get a King Crimson song that includes their adaptation of the classic piece from Ravel. Parts of this are played decidedly classical in nature, while other sections bring in sounds and melodies of pure King Crimson. They take it out into some jazzy jamming later, too. This instrumental was recorded on the Lizard album and seldom (if ever) played live before this tour.
Radical Action
This cut has some definite electronic vibes at times. Yet it also gets hard-core hard rocking and almost metallic at times. It's fierce, fiery and a real screamer. They take this through a number of shifts and changes before it's over.
One More Red Nightmare
A screaming hot rendition of the song from Red, this works really well. I tend to prefer the original vocals, but the ones here definitely don't hinder my enjoyment of this take.
Moonchild
This classic from the first album gets a cool live telling here. They play it pretty faithfully up until the extensive exploration would have taken control. I've never really been a fan of that part, so when they take it out instead to a bass solo, I find it to be an improvement. That runs for a bit, and then ends the piece.
Easy Money
Somehow this rendition of the tune seems to be the closest to the studio take of the song to me. It's a killer version that works quite well. They take it out into some pretty trippy zones further down the road in an extensive instrumental movement. In fact, this cut runs over ten-minutes and has some cool space meets psychedelic Crimson exploration later along the road. They eventually make their way to a rather tastefully chaotic return to the song proper. From there it goes more to the kind of mix one expects of the number to take it forward.
Level Five
This thing is a real powerhouse that works through various shifts and changes. It's heavy and yet melodic. It has some parts that are crazily quick paced, while other sections have a slower mode to them. There are percussion breaks built within the piece. It just keeps evolving and working through lots of cool zones.
Peace
There is an acapella section as this cut gets underway. There are instruments in the mix further down the road, but this cut remains so mellow and pretty from start to finish.
Cadence and Cascade
Acoustic guitar brings this into being with a pretty melody. Other elements are added to the mix, but the cut remains mellow for the entrance of the vocals. After the first vocal section it gets a bit more powered up, but it continues as an almost psychedelic folk prog kind of piece. It's another that's very pretty. There are some soaring sections here, but all delivered in a melodic, somewhat restrained way. I have always been a big fan of this tune, and this live version really does a great job with it.
Breathless
This thing fires in with a serious hard rocking sound. It works forward with characteristic Crimsonian fury. This evolving powerhouse is a great way to close the set in style.
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTqqxpTmgMcm-lTIVqNCeyA
 
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