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King Crimson - Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.62 | 117 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars A stray thought, while unwrapping this lavishly packaged 4-disc live set (three CDs, plus a Blu-ray disc) from the newly-inflated King Crimson septet: whatever happened to the "small, mobile, intelligent units" Robert Fripp was aiming toward in his Drive to 1981?

Since the 1970s Fripp has arguably been the most progressive of any first-generation Prog Rocker, adamant in his resistance to a sentimental reformation of the original band. And yet here he is, nearing the twilight of his career, on stage performing beloved chestnuts like "Epitaph", "Sailor's Tale", and (not inappropriately) "21st Century Schizoid Man".

But if the Crimson King isn't looking forward any more, he's at least assembled a formidable unit to help relive the past. And after the letdown of the too-abbreviated "Live at the Orpheum" teaser it's reassuring to see the Crimson monster back on its feet...all fourteen of them, in this case.

The flute and sax work of old friend Mel Collins provides a welcome bridge to an earlier, warmer King Crimson, and offers an effective proxy for David Cross' violin on the Larks' Tongues-era songs: note his playful interpolations of Henry Mancini and Rimsky-Korsakov during the proto-metal "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One". Jakko Jakszyk 's voice is likewise a honey-toned throwback to the bygone days of Greg Lake and Boz Burrell, giving the new lineup another valid excuse to exhume such old material.

The few new songs offer encouraging evidence that the aging beast hasn't lost all its teeth yet, despite this being more of a reunion ProjKct than a creative rebirth. But nostalgia was clearly the order of the day, with a conspicuous hole in the set-list shaped like Adrian Belew, effectively airbrushed out of the repertoire as completely and mercilessly as Gordon Haskell once was. The only selections from his more than 25-years at the front of the Crimson stage are Fripp-composed, or entirely instrumental.

And Belew isn't alone in his exile: the entire audience was amputated from these live tapes, in classic Fripp-like fashion. The guitarist as long been notorious for his stage reticence, needing the attention of a receptive crowd to synergize his performance, but always at arm's length, and preferably without photographs. Maybe he decided to simply carry that wallflower impulse to its logical end.

The 1974 LP "Starless and Bible Black" followed the same approach, camouflaging a live recording as a studio album. But that was with all-new material, not the familiar oldies presented in these shows. Consequently there's a sense of detachment here at odds with a genuine live experience, all part of a calculated (and quintessentially Frippish) design extending to the matching formal stage outfits and choreographed song arrangements, split between three drummers.

And, outside of a few "B'Boom"-style interludes, there isn't any improvisation. Understandable perhaps, given the logistics of such an unwieldy ensemble. But it's still disappointing to see a muzzle tied around the historic Crimson ideals of serendipity and happy accidents.

All of which probably reads like excessive Monkey Mind griping about an album I'm nevertheless calling 'an excellent addition to any Prog Rock music collection'. Criticism aside, the sound is tremendous, the performances airtight, and the older songs (ignoring the umpteenth reincarnation of "Red") fresher than ever, perfectly at ease alongside the new stuff. Imagine the aging monarch donning his old robes and finding they not only still fit, but after more than 45-years are almost back in fashion.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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