King Crimson, Bellco Theatre, Denver, June 24, 2017.
by Tim Van Schmidt
I am ecstatic that I finally got to see King Crimson.
Sure, I’ve been to a couple of shows to see a band named King Crimson before- with Adrian Belew at the center, guided by reclusive guitarist Robert Fripp. But the show at the Bellco Theatre in Denver on June 24 was more than just a band gig. This was a powerhouse performance that fully realized the music of King Crimson, from the beginning to the present.
What a triply delicious encore it was, hearing the band’s signature tune, “In the Court of the Crimson King,” David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and, finally, the ever poignant “21st Century Schizoid Man” played live by a fully charged, 8-man unit anchored by three drummers. But that was simply dessert in the wake of a two set show that did everything with authority.
The music did get beautifully mangled at times, twisting and turning around the scrape of raw, dark power chords. But pretty art songs also surfaced, like cool water. This emotional give and take- between heavy, edge-of-the-seat angst and the light flutter of butterflies- was wielded carefully throughout the two sets, though really what everyone was there for was the tornado of sound they would eventually whip up.
Very impressive was vocalist and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, who put the best face on this muscular version of King Crimson, handling the vocals with passion and ably mixing his own guitarwork with Fripp’s more otherworldly sound. There wasn’t a second in the show you had a sense that Jakszyk was aping the past- his was a fresh and vital interpretation of the material.
Also impressive were the contributions of sax and flute player Mel Collins- an early alumnus of King Crimson who seems to be playing much better now than ever. His more natural sound, immersed in all of that electricity, was key to making the music pivot to something nice or push towards a musical straining point.
And how can you resist the power of three drummers, arrayed front and center on the stage? Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto and Jeremy Stacey all had different sounding kits and different approaches, but cut up the King Crimson parts with creativity and flair. Their job was to underscore it all with a force that could not be resisted, even perhaps a little to the detriment of the rest of the band’s sound.
This King Crimson also featured keyboardist Bill Rieflin and bassist Tony Levin. But of all the instrumental output on stage at the Bellco, the really special moments came from Fripp’s guitar. It’s all about the tone with him- tone, attack and sustain and it can cut right through the wall of sound that is now King Crimson and make its own statement. In the middle of a kind of industrial musical chaos, Fripp is able to suspend the moment, sometimes with just a single note, carried on and on.
No matter what version of King Crimson you have seen- or if you have never seen them- this particular tour is top drawer and should not be trifled with. This is not prog rock nostalgia, but an up-to-date, highly dynamic reboot.