The Crimson ProjeKCt (featuring the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Stick Men)
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 12th March 2014
Tony Levin - Stick, Bass Guitar, Funk Fingers, Vocals
Markus Reuter - U8 Touch Guitar, Laptop
Pat Mastelotto - Drums, Electronic Percussion
Adrian Belew Power Trio
Adrian Belew - Guitars, Vocals
Julie Slick - Bass Guitar
Tobias Ralph - Drums
Notes from the Dress Circle
My own main reason for buying a ticket for this show (crikey! all those months ago now!) was for the rare opportunity of seeing the two groups individually - mainly the STICK MEN, but also the ADRIAN BELEW POWER TRIO. But the added bonus of hearing some KING CRIMSON repertoire thrakked out by the whole collective was an enticing prospect (and no mistake!). Earlier tours (in North America and the Orient) had seen the two bands playing their individual sets before joining up at the end of the evening for an 'extended crim-centric encore'. But this time around they've mixed it up a little more, bravely starting the show with the fullblown b'boomthrak experience and then fra[K]ctalizing into their component parts again... I thought it made for a fresh approach.
INTRODUCTORY SOUNDSCAPE... Nice! Markus is never afraid to take risks within the 'soundscape' format. We've heard him do some astonishing things with eight strings and a laptop over the years. There were indeed a couple of 'hairs on the back of the neck' moments during the course of his allotted time slot tonight. But for the most part, his job here is to keep it reined in and give us a little 'Fripp-Lite' before the drummers come on.
B'BOOM... Wow! Now that's a sharp drum sound. Good job, sound guys! A compelling bit of percussive interplay (and I speak as one who usually loathes drum solos with a vengeance).
THRAK... and the 'double trio' kicks off in fine polyrhythmic style. I thought that the improv section was a little uninspired tonight though, quite a lot of aimless scratching o'strings.
DINOSAUR... This is not my favourite Crim number by any stretch of the imagination, but it always sounds mighty powerful when six people go at it. Markus is starting to take liberties with the solo, which is a good thing.
FRAME BY FRAME... Yawn! After thirty odd years, this hoary old chestnut from the eighties has really nothing left to offer me. Best get it out of the way early in the set and finally put it to rest.
SLEEPLESS... This song just didn't work for me either, sorry. Rhythmically 'busy' as it is anyway, it just sounds messy when given a full 'double trio' arrangement. Some parts are simply 'surplus to requirement'.
'B'... Ah! but this was tremendous, edge of the seat stuff! The Power Trio sound at their best tonight when playing their own material (when doing some of the CrimTunes, they don't sound like their hearts are really in it).
NEUROTICA... actually, I'll take that back, this one sounds pretty good as a Power Trio performance! There's a few gaps in the vocal arrangement, but it still works as a semi-instrumental ("Manhattan"?)
CRACK IN THE SKY... Bring on the Stick Men! to play a most lovely thing indeed. That guitar melody gets me every time!
CUSP... The other side of the Stick Men coin, an up-beat, mathematically intricate bit of interplay that finds you trying to merrily tap along but failing miserably.
LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC PART TWO... I was very surprised to hear this so early in the set(s), but what the hey! It started as played by the Stick Men trio (powerful enough as it is!), but then Adrian Belew joined in for the final "violin" solo and closing section and it really took off!
THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR... Winding things down a notch, the 'third' trio of Belew, Levin and Mastelotto treat us to a rendition of another of those 'hoary old chestnuts from the eighties' that really do not have much to offer this particular listener anymore.
MATTE KUDASAI... at least this one was brave! Belew had been playing this song in a folksy solo arrangement earlier in the tour, but now Levin has joined him for a rather interesting duet.
'E'... The Adrian Belew Power Trio back to doing what they alone can do. I think I detected a few tuning problems during the course of this piece, but it didn't seem to matter, deviantly polytonal as it is anyway. I never realised before just how much Julie Slick contributes to this little ditty.
STICK MEN IMPROV... Be still my fluttering heart, I'm in ProjeKCt heaven! Bloody marvellous, a beautifully conceived improv in the classic KCrimStyle, with some absolutely delicious Markus soloing.
VROOOM... the set list says 'Vrooom', but was it 'Vrooom' or was it 'Vrooom Vrooom'? I forget. Whatever!?! This 'double trio' classic still sounds pretty powerful when played by only three Stick Men.
FIREBIRD SUITE... Well, now I've actually watched it for myself and I still don't know how only three people can make all that orchestral noise! Clever sods. Gawd, it's good! This is pretty much what I came to hear tonight (so it's all downhill from here on?!? Kidding!)
ONE TIME... The full sextet reconvene. Again, it sounds too 'busy' to me, I think there is far more going on than the song warrants.
RED... I suppose you'd call this one the 'anthem', then? Still quite limber for something celebrating its fortieth birthday. The two drummers made it for me.
INDISCIPLINE... Despite its looser structure, there's no element of surprise left in this song. Or maybe they're just bored with it too. The drummers did a fine job of trying to wrench something interesting out of it rhythmically (or were they deliberately attempting to throw Tony Levin off his stride? It seemed that way at one point.)... but I'm afraid I have to make my excuses and leave now, I have public transport to connect with.
Just for the record, the encores (which I couldn't stay to hear) were a further couple of 'hits' from the "Discipline" album, ELEPHANT TALK and THELA HUN GINJEET. So I didn't miss anything I hadn't heard before. Father Time dictated that the Adrian Belew Power Trio omitted YOUNG LIONS from their set, the Stick Men didn't play OPEN PART 3 (they played a magnificent improv anyway, so that's okay) and Adrian didn't get to do his solo version of IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING. I would have liked to have heard how that worked out. (It's also a shame they couldn't find room for "Breathless". Ah well... you can't have everything.)
All in all it was a fine evening of music. Some of it didn't quite come off as planned, but Hey! that's Crimson! King Crimson were never (and should never be) a 'greatest hits' band. You don't go and see a Crimson-related entity to hear things "exactly as they sound on the records". That's what 'other' vintage bands do - get lazy, play it safe, pander to the crowds... that misses the point entirely. Some of tonight's music had me gripping the seat in excitement. At other times in the show, I don't mind admitting, I did get bored (a case of "I've heard that before, play me something new!"). Let's be honest, Crim fans don't buy ruddy great box sets so that they can hear twenty identical versions of the same song (okay, they buy ruddy great box sets so that they can hear twenty different versions of the same song!).
I see this tour as drawing a line under KING CRIMSON: THE ADRIAN BELEW YEARS. After thirty-odd years, much of this repertoire has seen better days, quite frankly. During tonight's show, we caught occasional 'glimpses of possibilities' (mainly from the component groups rather than the full ensemble), but to these ears, the "Discipline" material especially does not lend itself to further musical exploration. Its already tight structure leaves nowhere else for it to go. Markus Reuter has said that he's definitely not interested in a long term career playing in a 'covers' band, he'd only continue if they could explore new material as well. The Stick Men are already doing a splendid job of providing that role. The Adrian Belew Power Trio as a group have performed some wonderful music over the years, culminating in the fabulous "E" album, but now Belew is all wrapped up in a new project of his own, as are the other individual members... TIME TO MOVE ON!
>>> Here's another review of the show, over on the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages
>>> Here's tonight's show on Tony Levin's tour pages