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King Crimson - Cirkus - The Young Persons' Guide To King Crimson Live CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.84 | 92 ratings

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3 stars This is a compilation of live Crimson recordings, ranging from across the band's lengthy but fractured career, released in 1999. It follows the same sort of line as the much revered studio "Young Person's Guide", in that it is a "taster", albeit a detailed one, of the band's wares and an invitation to explore further.

The first CD deals with the Adrian Belew era, and many might be surprised to learn that it is, to these ears, far better, certainly in terms of the lush production and also musicianship. There are some absolute gems here, right from the pounding and energetic opener Dinosaur (one of the best tracks they ever put out) to the weird and wonderful Elephant Talk which closes proceedings. Thela Hun Ginjeet is awesome, but the absolute highlight for me is the exceptionally heavy and tightly played Red. The studio album itself is my favourite Crimson release, and this gem proves that the title track was always going to be the one that translated best into a new era. I also love the Coda: Marine 475 which shows an outfit as comfortable with experimentation live as it is possible to get. Three Of A Perfect Pair is, again, hugely enjoyable, and there are only rare moments when it all gets too much on this CD, for me these being the more "out there" tracks such as Neurotica, VROOM VROOM, and Heavy ConstruKction. They are not bad, but somehow very sameish and forgettable.

There. If I were to end the review at this stage, an easy three stars, verging on the excellent. The live sound of a venerated band moving majestically and loudly into a new era, and justifying, in the main, Bruford's famous quote that one day, all music will sound like this (I paraphrase).

Regrettably, the first part of the second CD absolutely drags proceedings down. Firstly, let me state that I purchased the debut Crimson LP in 1978, and fell in love with the band. I have everything the "classic" era band have, and still, to a degree, thoroughly enjoy their music. Without doubt, Crimson, and Fripp at their head, were one of the major art rock, prog rock, call it what you will, outfits the world has seen.

But my, oh my, when the 1972 version of 21st Century Schizoid Man hits the speakers, all you hear is an undiluted mess, a cacophony of sound that is as majestic as a lorry smashing against a wall. The studio original, when it announced itself to the world, was unlike anything heard before. This live version is the same, but in a completely negative way. Things don't get any better with Ladies Of The Road, the studio version of which is incredible, but this live one sounding as if the band were performing from a deep cast coal mine. Very forgettable and painful to listen to.

The 1969 and original version of the band get two outings. A Man And A City is okay without being remarkable, but I do enjoy tremendously this live version of In The Court..., especially with the adept use of the remarkable sounding mellotron and Greg Lake sounding as if he he is enjoying every second.

The following four tracks are taken from the much loved The Great Deceiver boxset, and were recorded in 1973/74 with my personal favourite incarnation of Crimson - Fripp, Cross, Wetton, and Bruford. The CD reasserts itself here in spades. Fracture is incredibly well played, with moments of sheer beauty amongst the more improvised sections. Wetton sounds especially imperious on bass guitar, and Fripp seems to be enjoying himself tremendously, which is surprising really given that he halted the career of the band not long afterwards.

Easy Money is perhaps the highlight of the entire two CD's. When you listen to this magnificent performance, with Wetton at its absolute heart, you realise that when he said the band could have been as big as Floyd, he wasn't far wrong. Stunning and absolutely vital, a lesson in how bass guitar can lead a live performance. The improvisational piece, Besancon, is one and a half minutes of throwaway stuff, which leads into The Talking Drum. It's undeniably eccentric and eclectic, but is played very well and still stands up after so many years as being relevant, if epitomising everything which music writers less than three years later would hate about the genre.

Larks Tongues...Part II returns us to a Belew incarnation performance from 1996 - the same as that which performed Red on CD one. Again, the difference in production is hugely noticeable, and the band carry off a complicated piece of music with aplomb. A brilliant performance.

The final track returns us to the heady days of 1974, and my favourite Crimson track, Starless. Listen to the wonder of David Cross on violin, the incredible percussive performance of Bill Bruford, Wetton's slightly understated bass guitar and lovely vocals, together with the magnificent guitar of Robert Fripp, all rounded off with perhaps, no definitely, THE signature performance of mellotron of all time by both Cross & Fripp. A staggeringly good version of a staggeringly essential composition. You are left breathless at the close.

So, how to rate this? Well, as a taster it works, by and large, very well. Listeners should absolutely move onwards to purchasing The Great Deceiver, and might wish to buy one of the many newer live sets by Crimson or The ProjekCt, although I actually think that the representation on this CD is enough in itself.

There are many highlights here, but the low moments are, I am afraid, enough to move me to rate this album as good, but non-essential. When I say good, I mean that, because the highlights are more than enough to justify the legendary status of this great band. Just try your best to ignore, or skip, those passages which so let it down as a definitive compilation.

3.5 stars if we had such a rating.

lazland | 3/5 |


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