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THE ROAD TO RED

King Crimson

Eclectic Prog


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4 stars This first paragraph is the quick version for the casually curious. It's difficult to rate "The Road to Red" accurately because it's really two separate things...a remaster/remix of "Red" & "USA" and a live chronicle of the final '74 tour. While it's clearly 5 stars because of the "Red" & "USA" remaster/remixes of albums that are "Essential masterpieces of progressive rock music", the live material is definitely for "Collectors/fans only" like me due to uneven sound quality and incomplete song recordings. In the end, I can't in good conscience rate it as 5 stars as much as it's a 5 star dream come true for myself, so I'll go with 4. If you've ever bought a '74 Crimso tour bootleg (or wanted to) or were curious about what prog really sounded like in '74, this is the place to go; otherwise, stick with "USA" & "The Great Deceiver" as they're more polished documents of what the '74 live band could do.

Before I begin you should know what kind of person would buy The Road to Red and who would be crazy enough to write a review of something so expansive. I'd been into prog a couple years by the time I was 17 and had often seen King Crimson albums in the record store. Curiosity got me one day and I asked my local record store hippy what King Crimson sounded like. With a knowing and evil smile he said he'd put something on. 11 minutes and 14 seconds later the final strains of "Fracture" met my ears and my life was forever changed. I begged, borrowed, and scraped from friends and family over the next three days and purchased "Starless and Bible Black" that day, "Lizard" the next, and "USA" the day after that - my first day as a high school junior. To put it in Fripp-ian terms, my world had shifted on it's axis and everything now looked radically different. I had found "my band" and all others paled by comparison. I quickly acquired the entire Crimso discography and closed the circle a couple years later when I met Robert Fripp at the July 1979 Frippertronics show at my local Tower Records.

While I was lucky enough to attend all the big prog tours passing through the San Francisco Bay Area from 1976 on, something was always missing. King Crimson. Their final local show was the Cow Palace on 6/13/74 and I missed it by a couple years. But all was not lost! A local record store near San Jose State University sold King Crimson live bootlegs and I became obsessed with collecting anything from that 1974 tour. When "The Great Deceiver" box came out in 1992 I was ecstatic. When "The Road to Red" was announced in 2013 I was certifiable!

I've been traveling The Road to Red every day for the past month and have just completed my journey. First the formidable collection of "cool stuff". The box is a full size 12" x 12" package that contains a staggering amount of one of a kind documentation including a full size 38 page booklet with set lists, ticket stubs, details on all 24 discs, an article by Crimso biographer extraordinaire Sid Smith, excerpts from Fripp's journal, and many photos I've never seen before. A full size album cover front and back of "Red" and "USA" suitable for framing is also included. Add to that reproductions of the tour itinerary, a concert poster, official Atlantic Records PR releases for the band and "Red", handwritten set lists, and the Holiday Inn stationary with lyrics to "Starless" scribbled above the logo which reads, "Your Host...from Coast to Coast" and you get an idea what a special collection this is. Of all the extras that are included, the most poignant are the pictures from the photo session which were used for the cover of "Red". Why is it somewhat sad? Because it includes a photo of David Cross that was obviously never used. He must have known the purpose of the photo shoot, then to find out at the last moment that you were no longer a member of a band you'd fully devoted yourself to bringing to the "first division" must have been a crushing blow.

On to the music. I'll attack this in two parts. First, the remaster of "Red" and "USA". Second, the 20 CD's which document many dates of that fateful, final 1974 US/Canadian tour.

I'll admit straight up, I'm not a big fan of remasters/remixes. Not that I'm opposed to them, but it seems no matter what they do I always hear things the way they sounded when I first heard them (and listened to them over and over and over until they were burned into my consciousness)...anything else just sounds "wrong" to me. That said, "The Road to Red" offers plenty of opportunities to "re-hear" the material in new ways. First there's a new 2013 Steven Wilson/Robert Fripp stereo remix of "Red" on CD. The rest of the remixes are found on the DVD & Blu-ray discs. The DVD features 2 remixes of the 6/28/74 Asbury Park show that yielded "USA", a 30th anniversary remaster of "USA", and the 2013 "Red" remix earlier found on the final CD. The 2 Blu-ray discs are overflowing with goodies which include 4 of the shows represented on the live CD's, "Red" mixes/remasters from 2009 (Surround Sound), 30th Anniversary Remaster, and 2013 Stereo Mix. In addition, there are a couple bonus tracks as well, an instrumental studio recording of "Fallen Angel" and what is labeled a "Red Trio Version". "USA" is also represented here with a 2005 and 2013 mix of the Asbury Park show as well as a 30th Anniversary Remaster and UK Vinyl Transfer of "USA" proper.

Onto the live CD's!

A couple important notes before I begin. The purpose of this part of the box set is to document what actually happened on the final leg of that 1974 US/Canadian tour which ended with Crimso's dynamic Central Park show 7/1/74. As such, it strives to present one show per CD (or in rare cases one show spread across 2 CD's) so when you're listening to a specific disc, everything you hear was recorded at the same location on the same date. Some of the material on these discs has been previously available in other formats such as "The Great Deceiver" box set, downloads from www.dgmlive.com, the King Crimson Collectors Club, and "The Collectable King Crimson Volume 1". Before pulling the trigger on purchasing "The Road to Red" be sure to read the fine print in the descriptions to make sure you won't be surprised to find you've already bought some of this material.

Some other caveats, this is not every single show that occurred between 4/28/74 and 7/1/74 but does include all or most of 16 of the 28 tour dates. On occasion a song will be missing the first few seconds (this mostly occurs on the first song of the show when the soundboard engineer was apparently caught off- guards by the band). Most of these recordings are high quality direct from the soundboard and remastered with 2013 technology, but there are a handful of instances where a cassette source was used. In these cases, I've found the recording quality to be much better than any of the 1970's vinyl bootlegs I've heard, but certainly a step down from a direct soundboard recording.

Onto the music. First a general overview of impressions after making my way through all the live material.

Mixed in these recordings are several improvisations. These usually appear in two specific places in the set list. The first improv almost always is a short 1 to 2 minute piece that leads into "Exiles". As such, it's more of an extended "Exiles" intro than a stand alone improv. The second improv of the night usually appears 2 or 3 songs later in the set and tends to be an extended piece with no relation to any other song. These are fascinating. If you enjoy pieces like "Trio", "Starless and Bible Black", "Providence", "Asbury Park" and "The Golden Walnut" you'll love these.

There are a few highly amusing moments which include Robert Fripp's audience interactions. These are sometimes fun but other times provide a real insight into his growing frustrations in dealing with sometimes obnoxious concert crowds. Remember, this was one of the last tours he ever regularly spoke to the live audience and played in a spotlight. His exasperation with "the vampiric relationship" between performer and audience would, in a few short years, lend itself to his desire to ban flash photography and play in a dark spot on the stage - or in the case of Peter Gabriel's 1977 tour, play completely backstage behind a curtain under the alias "Dusty Rhodes".

Hearing the composed songs from night to night offers many fascinating opportunities to compare and contrast the band. For example, Fripp never played the same solos in "Exiles" twice, every night he'd improvise something new. Bruford also would change up his parts regularly especially in "Exiles", "Fracture", and "Starless". Speaking of "Starless", these live versions are drastically different than the studio version in one important respect. Without Ian MacDonald and Mel Collins to play the buildup that leads to the songs thematic restatement and dramatic conclusion, it falls on Fripp to make the final minutes of the song a masterpiece of passion and structure. Was he up to it? What do you think?

A tour through the live discs and some performance notes (from here on out I abbreviate the band members names):

Disc 1 : Colombus OH 4/28/74

RF absolutely on fire for Easy Money solo, later he offers this audience interaction which includes a dig at his old mate Greg Lake and a certain violin player across the stage!

"...survey of our audiences if you like us or not. [applause] Ladies & gentlemen a most generous assessment...we're having a little difficulty with our violin over here...it was built by a celebrated English violin maker from Shepherds Bush named Mr Legs Quigly...you may heard of him...Legs plays in a very famous English rock band, Emerson, Legs, & Palmer. If you will just bear with us for a moment we will do what we can to improve the flaccid tone and wavering intonation of our violin player."

Disc 2 : Pittsburgh PA 4/29/74

Fantastic improv into "Exiles"...very odd RF solo, no distortion or sustain.

Disc 4 : Houston TX 6/5/74

Improv into "Exiles" resembles "Asbury Park" off "USA" which wouldn't occur for another month.

Disc 6 : Oklahoma City OK 6/7/74

JW's voice cracks pretty bad singing the ending of opening song "The Great Deceiver" during the "cigarettes, ice cream figurines of the Virgin Mary" part.

Disc 7 : El Paso TX 6/8/74

After a scorching "Fracture", RF says, "good evening...madam, you would like me to adopt what is termed in the trade as 'doing the big willie' for you madam? Certainly, here I go. Are you ready for this young lads? This is part of the drive to commercialism, this is an appeal. Ladies and Gentlemen, please buy our records. Please. May I on behalf of the band initiate a campaign that I'm sure will capture the hearts of millions, ladies & gentlemen make King Crimson a top 10 band!"

"Starless" broke into 2 halves missing a few minutes in the middle but when it comes back in, RF is wailing!

Disc 8 : Denver CO 6/16/74

By far the best version of "The Great Deceiver".

Disc 10 : Grand Rapids MI 6/23/74

JW sings the wrong lyrics on "The Great Deceiver" & "Starless"...must've been having a bad night. Later, a very bizarre "Fracture" as RF sits out a whole section in the big buildup & BB plays the whole final buildup with very odd timed snare hits.

Disc 11,12 : Toronto 6/24/74

An incredible 2nd solo by RF in "Exiles".

Early in the show RF announced that they would be recording tonight for use on the next Crimso album ("Red"), then they do a ripping version of "The Golden Walnut" that blows away the eventually released improv "Providence" (who knows why they chose that piece instead?) Later in the show after someone keeps screaming during the quiet sections of the improv "Clueless and Slightly Slack"...RF got angry: "Sir if you can't keep your mouth shut at a moment like that you're an insensitive creep".

Disc 13 : Quebec City 6/25/74

They radically shake up the set and open with traditional closer "21st Century Schizoid Man"! They seriously mess up the beginning of the "Starless" quiet jam section and it nearly falls completely apart...RF, JW & BB were all counting the measures out differently...but they recover nicely as BB plays some amazing fills not usually found in other versions.

Disc 15 & 16 : Asbury Park NJ 6/28/74

Disc 15 & 16 are different mixes of the same show that was later used for "USA". The difference is Disc 15 has an additional improv which flows out of a quick 2 minute "Easy Money" and runs nearly 9 minutes going from laid back DC mellotron and RF light solo to very heavy full band.

These discs include the same "Asbury Park" improv as on "USA" but it doesn't sound the same. At the 4:29 mark on the "USA" version the band comes to an abrupt halt then RF & JW play a sparse duet. On the actual live version, the duet was a trio with DC playing mellotron, but that part was completely removed for the "USA" version...not sure why. The improv then goes on for another excellent 4 and a half minutes after the "USA" version ends reverting back to the full band improv before ending.

RF is a bit ragged at the opening of "Fracture" but JW & BB play an amazing buildup in the middle section of "Starless".

Disc 17 : University Park PA 6/29/74

Fascinating, JW's tone on Exiles is completely different from the past show where it was highly distorted and out front, here it's very clean and restrained.

Inlcudes the "Is there life out there" speech from RF which concludes with: "This is an improvised piece of music completely off the top of our heads...your enthusiasm is encouraged" then they play what is arguably the best improv of the entire box set, the 12+ minute "Is there life out there?"

Disc 18, 19 : Providence RI 6/30/74

Fantastic show with some wonderful RF banter before the monster improv "Voyage to the Centre of the Cosmos" (this improv and RF's banter can be heard on "The Great Deceiver" box set).

Disc 20 : Central Park NY 7/1/74

End of the line in Central Park. Unfortunately not the best sound quality of the box from a restored audience cassette, but the overall performance rivals or exceeds the Asbury Park show used to create "USA". Opens with a ripping and angry "21st Century Schizoid Man". RF's solo is like a crosscut saw and just tears through the mix. The mid set Improv-Exiles-Improv trio is so good it makes you want to scream! A powerful "Fracture" and after a couple quick announcements, RF introduces "Starless" as "Starless and Bible Black". Not sure when the final name of "Starless" was actually decided though, so that may be how the band still referred to it before the recording of "Red". The most intense "Talking Drum" I've ever heard! DC has said he felt totally lost and beaten down by the volume of JW & BB but he sounds great on his last show. Really nice to hear the audience roaring as the band begins the last song of the tour and their live 70's career, "Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 2".

And the live part of "The Road to Red" concludes in a perfect sentiment for all King Crimson fans as the announcement of, "You can exit by all 4 doors tonight" is met with hearty disappointment.

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Posted Monday, December 02, 2013 | Review Permalink

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