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Review of King Crimson 2018 Performance Style

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DominicS View Drop Down
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    Posted: April 17 2019 at 10:19
Last year I attended a King Crimson gig at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on the 9th November in which they performed as part of their ‘Uncertain Times’ European tour. As one of the leading prog rock bands of the 70’s, it was a privilege to be able to watch them perform live, especially as a 19 year old. I attended the concert with my Father who has successfully shaped my musical tastes, and so sharing this musical experience with my Father as audience members made it even more special. This was an atypical rock gig in many different respects; the context in which it was set had a huge impact on the music and how this was received by the audience. For me, the unusual context of the gig was exciting, it felt new and impressive differing greatly to other prog gigs I have attended, despite the irony of the fact that the band have existed for 50 years. I will outline and explore the contextual features of the gig that made it so eccentric and how this was received by myself and the audience alike. 

Firstly, the performance was given a hugely formal context that you wouldn’t expect from other prog gigs. This is because the Bridgewater Hall is built mainly for classical performances and is home to 3 resident orchestras including the BBC philharmonic. What further added to the formality of the gig was the fact that the venue was all seated which allowed for total concentration on the performers rather than the distractions of other audience members dancing at the front. The band presented themselves in a similarly formal way in order to fit in with the context of the venue as they all wore smart suits and even seated themselves in sync. It was as if I’d come to see an orchestra perform rather than a rock band; this atypical context was a welcome change to the usual context of a rock gig as I was more curious than ever before. This was perhaps King Crimson’s attempt at connecting with the genres classical persuasions as prog rock takes much inspiration from classical composers. Tony Levin was classically trained and so for him the classical context must have been a nice way for him to explore his roots as a musician as well as heightening his performance. This context, it can be argued, is therefore the most authentic way for the band to communicate their performance. However, it would be inaccurate to say that the band have represented this in a ‘consistent’ manner during their career. It has only been recently that they have changed their performance style. Yet I think that King Crimson have cleverly changed the context of their performance without losing authenticity which they have managed to do by staying true to the values of prog rock as a genre. 

 

The way that King Crimson actually conducted their performance visually and behaviourally was further interesting. As an audience member I became very aware of the lack of variety in lighting throughout the concert. The lighting stayed very monotone until the end of the gig when they played ‘Starless’ from the album Red in which the stage was filled with a pool of red light. For me this had a hugely powerful impact on the performance, it was breath taking due to how meaningful the lighting was in this instance. If lighting had been used before this, that moment at the end would have lost all significance and power. This again is a recent change in the way that the band perform as they have been known to use much heavier lighting in past performances. However, by lessening the visual aspects of their performance they brought the music to the forefront so that the audience were ablate fully engage with the music without being distracted. The band (or perhaps fairer to say, Robert Fripp) took a step further with this in mind by asking the audience to switch their phones off and refrain from taking any pictures or videos of the concert; signs were even displayed on the stage to prevent any use of photography. This forced the audience to fully engage with the music, again without being distracted by a phone screen. This allowed me to enjoy the privilege of sharing the musical experience with the rest of the audience without worrying about capturing the memory on my phone. Their desires to prevent distraction didn’t stop there, as throughout the performance they stayed more or less static and refrained from engaging in stage banter with the audience. Some audience members may have found this approach quite unfriendly and cold, but the bands soul desire was to put the music first and prevent anything spoiling the quality of the music. Although it is not the most welcoming, their approach was definitely unmediated as the band prevented anything intervening with the sound of the music such as the visual aspects and stage behaviour. That is not to say however, that heavy lighting and full engagement with the audience is detrimental in anyway, rather it can lift the excitement of a performance. The fact that King Crimson succeeded in creating such an exciting gig with just their music and no outside aids shows their great intelligence and professionalism.   

 

Despite their performance being communicated in such an unusual way, the reception from myself and the audience was still extremely positive – the audience themselves had an impact on my musical experience and were vital to the context of the performance. Due to the band being big in the 70s, it was an older audience of 50 years and over (which isn't uncommon at a prog gig) which made me feel like the youngest there. Yet this did not spoil my musical experience at all; in fact, I enjoyed sharing the experience with people that have stayed true fans of the band since the beginning of their careers. Due to this audience demographic, the audience were extremely respectful of the bands way of performing by not making too much noise during the songs and obeying the rule of no photography. The fact that the venue was fully seated prevented the audience from dancing at the front of the stage. This made the experience for me very comfortable as I wasn’t distracted by anyone in the audience, allowing me to fully engage with the band’s performance. The actual performance, therefore, was allowed to flourish due to the full engagement of the audience. This is not to say that myself and the audience didn’t at all show our enjoyment and thrill of seeing their technical accuracy on stage. A highlight of myself and many other audience members was when the band played 'islands', a truly beautiful moment . Another highlight was the at the beginning of the song ‘Indiscipline’, where the three drummers improvised an epic call and response solo that went on for about five minutes. I was in awe of the complexity of their improvisation as was the audience, who were cheering more and more as the solo went on. The audiences support must have been a real drive of encouragement for the drummers as Gavin Harrison had the bravery to incorporate a sick bucket into his solo after suffering from nauseating stomach cramps before the show; if the audience had been less enthusiastic, the performance would not have been as daring as this. The supportive context allowed the band to improvise music that the audience were not expecting, without the fear of getting a negative reaction. At the end of the performance, myself and the audience showed our true gratitude towards the band with a huge standing ovation. I, myself was in awe of the talent of the band throughout the performance and so for me it was important that I contributed in showing my thanks.

 

In conclusion, King Crimson not only perform in an unusual context but they themselves make the context of their performance unusual in order to showcase the music above anything else and show their roots as a progressive rock band. The gig felt more like I was watching an orchestra at times as the band matched themselves with the formality of the venue by dressing in suits, which could be seen as an attempt to connect with the genre’s roots. However, this is a contrast to the usual context they have previously performed in. Not only have they changed the context in which they perform, but they match the context with how they perform, with little lighting and little stage presence. The idea of this was to put the music first by preventing any distractions affecting the quality of the music which, to me, seems very authentic as they didn’t want to hide the music behind a massive visual display. The strange context of this performance gave a very positive reception from the older audience at the gig, who respected the context that King Crimson chose to perform in. This made me feel at ease during the gig as the audience were not distracting but we were still able to show our appreciation through cheering and standing at the end. Not only did the band play the songs we were expecting, but the kind reception allowed them to perform improvised solos; I was in awe of their performance throughout.

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tboyd1802 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tboyd1802 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 19 2019 at 12:28
Nice review. I hope you enjoy this, and other music over a long life !-)
He neither drank, smoked, nor rode a bicycle. Living frugally, saving his money, he died early, surrounded by greedy relatives. It was a great lesson to me -- John Barrymore
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote heavydrum Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 21 2019 at 15:27
very nice review, i saw them twice last year, in venice and pompeii, when they played 'starless' in pompeii and the lights went red over the ruins... man i still get goosebumps just thinking about it Big smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 21 2019 at 19:30
Hi,

Nice review all around.

The "classical" context of KC's performance has been there for many years, and it is something that a lot of "rock music" fans do not care for, and sometimes, it even becomes one of the reasons why those folks dislike KC ... RF is sitting down, and does not "acknowledge" the audience when playing ... for the most part within an orchestra the only person dealing with the audience is the conductor, not the players ... and we do not make usually snag remark comments about the 5th or the 9th. Or the 3rd!

For me, the most important part of KC is the fact that it separates the "men from the boys" (so to speak) when it comes to musicianship and performance. Too many bands rely on the cheap tricks of the trade, or the hardons due to a few girls in the first row, and this takes a lot of the music's value away from it all, in the end, but then, if most of the material is vain, I guess it makes sense to show up and be vain, right?

KC draws the line, and there are a lot of fans that do not like it. I've always said that KC in concert, specially in the past 10 years, is probably the best "classical concert" that you will ever see in your life, and well, it just happens to be electric! But, for me, RF is just as good up there doing his thing, as Yehudi Menuhin was, just as Isaac Stern was, or as much as Ravi Shankar was, and so many others. Even the venerable PF members do not get that much, since the days before DSOTM, when parts of their material was actually played by someone else, until you realized that the musicianship required, was not really designed for a rock audience, but ... there it is ... given to make it look like it is a show for the audience, many of which only wanted a piece of the pig, btw ... which ought to tell you about the actual performance, and how the band did not really think they could hold it up without the effects, which would have been done better with film on their massive screen?

The saddest part of it all, was watching some of these dinosaur bands, and many of them still wanting the "love" that an audience can give them ... and while watching RW and a couple members of the old YES, in my book it took away from the music ... he just about demanded an applause after each little solo ... use the burhaha instrument, and then pause for the applause kind of thing, and to me, this is the difference between greatness and just over-bearing ego ... RW, did not show me musicianship on the stage ... all we saw was a handful of chops ... and honestly, I was disappointed, and felt like the YES concert at the Casino here in Oregon, when the only fans were the dressed up and perfumed hippies of the day, applauding each HIT ... and never closing their eyes and appreciating the music, and applauding the bass solo pieces in the middle of some parts!

Somewhere along the way, it becomes obvious that the music itself is not as important as the showmanship that the musician stoops to conquer! For me, it has always cheapen the music, if the most you can do is try to sway the audience into loving what you are doing! What the heck are you paying for, then?

And this is what is missing in the "progressive music" history ... an audience appreciation that transcends the fan manipulation that so many bands rely on. I'm not sure that "progressive" can make its name, if the most it has to offer is just formatted music and a few trix in the box to ensure that you and I can make it to the show ... well, I know I won't, and KC might have been my last show EVER. But then, I have seen a lot more than most and have seen things that many people wish they had seen .... and I won't complaint about my chances and the time that I lived and got to see these great bands.

Kinda reminds me of Rachel Flowers doing her piano version of TARKUS ... you really think that the audience that liked and saw ELP would have sat for almost 20 minutes and applauded a piece of music on a solo piano? I really doubt it! And those same fans would have killed the band for its lousy show and music! And it is, in her hands, one of the finest piano pieces EVER written in American music!

The sheer lack of appreciation for the music itself ... is the most scary thing of all! It's the killer of all music and the arts! You might as well go back to the daily mill and grind! f**k the music!



Edited by moshkito - April 23 2019 at 07:14
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote klockwerk Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2019 at 08:17
Sad they perform in so many casinos in the US. I didn't go see them because of this.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote richardh Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 06 2019 at 16:31
Interesting that you pick Islands out as a highlight as I felt exactly the same when I saw them in Bournemouth on the same tour. Easily one of the most memorable gigs I've ever been to. The 3 drummers for me was complete heaven!

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