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King Crimson - Absent Lovers - Live in Montreal, 1984  CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.43 | 298 ratings

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5 stars Robert Fripp makes an interesting statement in the liner notes for this archive release - to paraphrase, he says, "A studio album is like getting a love letter, whereas a live performance is like a hot date. A live album, then, is a love letter of close embracing." Simply put, this incarnation of King Crimson MUST be heard live to gain full appreciation for it - even if you're not a fan of live albums in general, the fact remains that KC put much more emphasis on their live shows than on the process of capturing a perfect take for their studio albums, and in turn that means that the full potential of this King Crimson was only demonstrated in a live setting. Sure, it might seem a bit fishy to give a top score to an archive release of a live album (the last show the band did before "breaking up"), but I can't help it if this is the album of theirs that amazes me the most from start to finish (and that's 100 minutes of music, mind you).

What makes this 2-CD collection so amazing and such an improvement over most of the studio versions of these songs is the amount of energy that goes into these performances, and consequently the way this energy makes these songs breathe. No longer are the Discipline tracks cut-and-paste constructions; no longer are the Beat tracks so subdued and sleepy in their moodiness; no longer are the Three of a Perfect Pair tracks underproduced and underarranged. Both Belew and Fripp are in top form on this album - there may be a bit too much division of their roles, with Belew taking a slightly disproportionate amount of the lead duties, "relegating" Fripp to riffage and soundscapes, but I don't mind when I'm listening (Belew is, after all, an EXCELLENT guitar player). Levin also rules immensely on this album, with his bass taking on the volume it deserves, giving an incredible mobile bottom to the sound with tones that can only be adequately described using water metaphors (that's a compliment here, by the way). And then there's Bruford ... perhaps this is apocryphal, but I am familiar with a statement by Bruford where he says, in effect, that he's prouder of his work on this album than of any other in his entire recording career (which is not a small amount by any means). His combination of rhythm and power here, supplemented by an ultra-cool echoey effect on his drums, is stunning beyond all possible description that I could give. If nothing else, get this album for the drumming, it will blow your mind.

The tracklisting is fairly standard - after all, the band had three albums under its belt by this time, so there wasn't too much need to delve into back catalogue. Still, the fact that there isn't much in the way of older material doesn't mean they don't do a good job with it. "Red" loses some of its abrasive crunch from the studio version, but gains in many other ways - for one thing, Levin's bass is able to give the song groove, something completely inconceivable when listening to the song on Red. I also much prefer the middle section here - Fripp's riffage is loud, echoey and SPOOKY, and contrasts the double-bass part much better than in the original. "Larks' II" is also done exceptionally well - the riffage is maybe a bit rushed and a little less crisp than before, but the track nevertheless turns out great with Belew's bizarre guitar solos taking the spot of what was once Cross violin lines, not to mention all the subtle twists in tone and mood provided by the revamped rhythm section.

The rest of the songs (aside from the six-minute opening "Entry of the Crims," featuring the band walking on one by one and doing all sorts of scary warmups) are taken from the 80's trilogy (six from Discipline, three from Beat and six from TOAPP), and not a SINGLE one of the tracks is inferior to its studio counterpart. I'd probably say that "Frame by Frame" doesn't really exceed the studio version, but other than that, I'd be very hardpressed to not gush about the quality of any of these performances. I could gripe about the placement of "Heartbeat" in the encore (I've always thought it should have been earlier in the show), but even that has nothing to do with the performance, an improvement on the already excellent original.

Aside from that, though (without mentioning everything), you have "Larks III" exceeding the original, "Thela Hun Ginjeet" DESTROYING the original (the electronic drum barrage near the beginning before Levin kicks in with his bassline is one of the greatest "sit up and listen NOW" moments I've ever heard), "Industry" being more energetic and even spookier than before ... the list goes on. "Indiscipline" is ten times what it was in the studio, with Bruford's drum assaults extended, the jamming made even more bizarre, and Belew varying his vocal tone and speed in such a way as to raise the tension even further than anything the original approached. And man, that's just some of disc one.

Disc two manages to be even better, amazingly enough. "Sartori in Tangier," like most everything else on here, blows away its studio counterpart (Levin's lines are more intense, the guitars are weirder, etc etc), and that merely kicks off an almost perfect stretch of music. While most of this disc deserves yet more excessive praise, the need to avoid overkill prevents me from doing so. Yet duty compells me to give special props to two tracks found here, and I can't help but oblige. First, there's the rendition of "Waiting Man" - the opening percussion groove is much more intense and moody than before, Belew's vocals are WAAAAAAAY more resonant than before, and Fripp gets to throw in his own high quality guitar solos into the mix, which were lacking before.

Yet as good as that is, its followup blows it completely away. This rendition of "Sleepless," and I'm completely serious about this, just may be my favorite live rendition of any track by any band EVER. Aside from the already brilliant bassline (even faster and more fluid than before), Bruford also gets into the act to a far greater degree than before. He gets incredible power out of his kit in synch with Levin's bass, and when he gets to the point near the end where he's supposed to pick up the intensity, he absolutely goes nuts in maintaining a powerful polyrhythmic groove that he maintains for the rest of the track. Meanwhile, Fripp's guitar is even eerier than before, Belew sings the vocal melody with more intensity than on the original, as well as making his guitar solos in the middle that much spookier, and so on and so on. Everything comes together in a way that absolutely boggles my mind, and by the time Belew is bellowing, "Won't you pull me out of the sleepless night?" the band has created a track that represents one of the worst insomniac episodes imaginable.

GET THIS ALBUM. I was doubtful towards King Crimson as a great band once upon a time - simply put, this album changed my mind. Never has hard-rock/art-rock/New-Wave/80's- pop sounded so good, and if you're interested in this incarnation of the band, you should get this first and THEN get the others. The studio albums might disappoint you after hearing these incredible renditions, but at the same time, this is most likely to get you into the band in the first place, so whatever.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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