King Crimson has never been anything but obstinate. For the last forty-eight years, through a maze of shifting band members and musical visions, Robert Fripp has steered the Crimson ship into waters few would dare to tread; the one virtue shared by every configuration throughout the band’s history is a high degree of difficulty. But even at its most challenging, this band was never a dry math lesson or empty display of mastery- more like a descent into fear, loathing and desperation, powered by tunes that simply required master musicians to play them. They’ve developed a tradition of not giving the audience what you might think an audience would want, relentlessly focused instead on whatever they’re doing in the moment. While they’re never quite the same band twice, from a musical standpoint, that stubbornness is the one trait that persists.
Despite the “prog-rock” tag, which will follow any band that plays in odd time signatures this much, Crimso rarely sound like what most people think of as classical music, ie the ornate, pretty stuff offered by Yes or ELP. They had the grinding, pounding thing that Black Sabbath had. Fun fact: Crimso used to cover “Mars, The Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst, which is what inspired Tony Iommi to write “Black Sabbath” in the first place, proving that even their symphonic references are kick-ass.
For decades, this obstinacy showed itself in the band’s live shows, which have almost always focused almost totally on what that particular lineup was doing at that particular moment, and maybe one or two oldies at the end. This current lineup – an eight piece with four drummers and the notable absence of Adrian Belew, who fronted the group from 1981 until recently – is taking a markedly different approach than usual. In addition to its newest music, with singer/ guitarist Jakko Jakszyk at the helm, the band is reaching way back, pulling songs from their earliest albums that haven’t been performed live since they were new. Their trip to the Orpheum in 2014 (which produced this fine live album) was a complete thrill, and this return visit promises a set change, some compositions which LA Crimheads haven’t seen in person in quite some time.
King Crimson appears at the Greek Theater on Wednesday, June 21. Tickets, $50 – $170, at AXS.com.