Performance Review: King Crimson Dethroned at the Keswick
Robert Fripp! Adrian Belew! Tony Levin! Oh my! On Monday and Tuesday night, legendary prog-rock outfit King Crimson — in a two-drummer quintet format — held court at Glenside’s Keswick Theatre for two sold-out shows. But this reviewer wonders if this shouldn’t be the band’s farewell tour …
In 10 Words or Less … There’s one fewer King Crimson fan in this world.
Strengths … The best thing that King Crimson has going for it at this point is its members’ reputations and pedigrees. Founder/guitarist Robert Fripp is a mad genius (you’d know his work from his bizzare collaborations with Brian Eno and David Bowie’s Heroes). Fans view the enigmatic Peter Gabriel-collaborator Tony Levin, who either plays something called a Chapman Stick or a bass with dowels attached to his flying fingers, as some sort of mystical musical shaman. And don’t forget frontman/guitarist Adrian Belew, who has worked with such notable folks as Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Tori Amos, and Nine Inch Nails. And then there is Crimson’s massively impressive catalog of indiosyncratic, logarithm rock. All of this should add up to a brilliant night of live music. And it certainly used to, based on the several times I’ve seen Crimson over the years. For examples, check out this TV performance of "Elephant Talk" and this 1995 take on "Red."
Weaknesses ... So what you also need to know about Robert Fripp is that he is one peculiar little English prick. Fans like to exchange stories about how Fripp goes out of his way to avoid any interaction with them. No autographs. No pictures. Never. At the Keswick show, security made a huge point of "no cell phones, no cameras." No cell phones? Are you kidding me? But that’s nothing compared to Fripp’s new level of withdraw: He is completely enshrouded by his stacks of equipment and is invisible to the audience, with the exception of his little head — topped by big old black headphones that further separate him from the rest of the people in the room and onstage — which occasionally moves. He could be back there checking his stocks or downloading porn for all we know. But hey, lots of "artists" are "eccentric," and for years, we’ve been forgiving of Fripp’s persona (or attracted to it) because the music has been so damn good. No longer. The performance was imprecise, lackluster, and laughably horrible at times, as Belew’s glares and shaking head certainly acknowledged.
Verdict … I’m sorry to the guy from down South who was eating bread dosed with liquid acid at Glenside’s Plush before the show. He made some comment about King Crimson being "rusty." I assumed he had just lost one too many brain cells to render any kind of credible opinion. I was wrong. As was King Crimson. So wrong.