King Crimson Lineup VIII has been absolutely on fire during its 2014 The Elements Tour. I was privileged to witness three amazing shows at the Best Buy Theater in New York City on September 18, 20, and 21, and I can report that Crim Mach 8 is one powerful progressive machine, due in no small part to having the triple-threat drum corps set up across the front of the stage. The interwoven percussive intricacies laid down by Messrs. Pat Mastelotto, Bill Rieflin, and Gavin Harrison were unlike anything I’ve ever heard live. And said live mix — courtesy of KC Front of House (FOH) sound designer Ian Bond — was nothing short of stellar each night once dialed in, incorporating subtle live quad effects, broad-scale panning, and full use of the dynamic range of the wide swath of instruments onstage, especially when it came to the ebb and flow of volume and its impact. I could hear KC mastermind Robert Fripp’s fingers furiously strumming his ax from a literal whisper to a scream throughout each set, with guitar compatriot (and occasional vocalist/flautist) Jakko Jakszyk providing a score of his own amazing textures via his custom “Court” PRS guitar. Bass master Tony Levin was a powerhouse on everything he touched with his bare hands, Funk Fingers, and bows — whether it was the Music Man StingRay 5-string bass, Chapman Stick, or NS Electric Upright bass. And Mel Collins deftly switched from saxophone to flute and back again as each challenging arrangement warranted. I witnessed three sets that displayed seven masterful players at the top of their respective games, each bandmember making modern forward-thinking music feel timeless, one note at a time.
I also spoke with a number of Crims backstage each night, and all were quite positive about the overall aural proceedings, feeling each night was better than the last as the band found its groove and then expanded into areas heretofore unheard. Indelible tracks like “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” [both Parts One and Two, which appeared in different portions of the sets], “Sailor’s Tale,” “Red,” “Starless,” “One More Red Nightmare,” “Level Five,” VROOOM,” “The ConstruKction of Light,” “The Talking Drum,” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” all received new life each time they were played, while newer pieces like “Hoodoo” and “The Hell Hounds of Krim” (excerpts of which are available in The Elements of King Crimson 2014 Tour Box) offer tantalizing tastes of what this collective could do in the future.
Where will it all go next? Only Fripp knows for sure, but I can tell you this: Once the U.S. tour reaches its conclusion, Jakszyk and I are going to commence an extensive interview series about the surround-sound mixes he’s done for King Crimson, Ian Anderson, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, among other hi-res-related topics. “Whenever Steven Wilson can’t do them, they all turn to me as the Number Two,” Jakko joked with me on Saturday night, but rest assured — his 5.1 work is top-shelf, so stay tuned.
Elemental Postscript: If you want more Crim, you can read Jon Pareles’ New York Times review of Thursday night’s KC show here.