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King Crimson - The Night Watch  CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.46 | 308 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars If I had to choose one King Crimson album to take with me into the hereafter, this might well be it. Never mind the studio stuff: Crimson was and always will be at their best on stage, and this 2-disc live set from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw vividly captures what many fans consider to be the band's best line up at their creative peak, in late 1973.

There's a good chance you've already heard a lot of it elsewhere: on the "Starless and Bible Black" album (which not many people knew at the time was in large part a concert recording), on Disc 4 of the "Frame by Frame" retrospective box set, or on one of the many bootlegs from the original radio broadcast of the gig.

But hearing the show in its (more or less) uninterrupted entirety, and with a reconstructed sound that shames most contemporary live recordings, is nothing less than a revelation. Even better than "The Great Deceiver" box, this one performance belatedly sums up all the awesome power and ingenuity of the Bruford-Wetton-Cross- Fripp configuration, and unlike most mid-'70s Prog Rock is no less challenging today than it was over 30 years ago: proof that the band was (and still is?) ahead of its time.

If there's a single weak moment on the entire 2-CD set, I have yet to find it. Every song is dramatically superior to its studio counterpart, from the first sudden downbeat of "Easy Money" to the final crescendo of "Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II". Listen to the band working its way through the spiral groove of "The Talking Drum", gradually shifting gears upward into overdrive with near telepathic precision. Or breaking into a funky mock-rock 'n' roll stomp during the acerbic "Lament", with Fripp soloing all over the auditorium (unlike his tame sustained fuzz on the later album version). Or sidestepping an unexpected technical glitch with textbook grace under pressure, after David Cross' mellotron audibly short circuits mid-way into the second verse of the title track. A quick thinking shift to electric piano alters the entire chemistry of the song, for the better in my opinion: adding a touch of delicacy sometimes lacking in the faux-string arrangements.

And even the most cerebral post-modern critical analysis would have to conclude that the "21st Century Schizoid Man" encore kicks serious butt.

However, it's the group improvisations that have always defined the various Crimson Kings, and on this night the band was certainly firing on all cylinders, despite the claims of chronic tour burnout quoted by more than one band member in the CD booklet. You can perhaps hear their fatigue in the way each of the three improvs begins from a point of zero energy and absolute silence. But the act of spontaneous music making must have had a galvanizing effect, judging by how each one develops.

"Trio" is an oasis of calm in the often discordant sea of classic Crimson noise and fury. "Starless and Bible Black" gradually builds into a mind-frying jam of epic proportions, propelled by the Wetton-Bruford rhythm section at full steam. And in "The Fright Watch", meant as little more than a prelude to "The Talking Drum", John Wetton coaxes sounds from his bass guitar that need to be heard to be believed, reminding me of a slumbering subterranean dinosaur slowly emerging from some ancient primordial swamp.

The first two improvisations were both featured on the "Starless and Bible Black" album, but hearing each of them in the context of a complete show puts the music in an entirely fresh perspective. (Audiophiles take note: the "Starless" improv still has the same sudden edit that appeared on the album, when the band slams together in dramatic unison near the end of the track. It always sounded like a cued moment, but CD sound wizard David Singleton admits in his notes that it was a splice. Maybe the tape ran out in mid-jam, not unlike the similar but more obvious break in "The Law of Maximum Distress", from "The Great Deceiver" box set.)

Robert Fripp has been generously releasing a lot of archival live recordings from older Crimsons over the last several years, mostly under the KC Collector's Club banner. Crimhead completists can spend long hours happily debating the merits of each and every performance, but I can't imagine any one show, over the whole long history of the band in any of its various incarnations, matching the same, consistent level of power and invention (and did I mention the superlative sound quality?) as this one.

It is, pure and simple, beyond criticism, and the next best thing to having been there in Amsterdam on that late November night.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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