KING CRIMSON, Meltdown: Live in Mexico
DGM Records (2018)
PERSONNEL — Robert Fripp (guitar), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, flute and vocals), Bill Rieflin (keyboards), Mel Collins (saxophones and flute), Tony Levin (bass, Stick and backing vocals), Pat Mastelotto (drums and percussion), Jeremy Stacy (drums and keyboards), Gavin Harrison (drums)
I am nothing if not loyal. King Crimson has been my favorite band since 1985. And while I have made it clear that this particular incarnation is not a favorite, that has not stopped me from buying this bands recorded output, which I have come to appreciate.
I have half-jokingly referred to this band as the King Crimson Chamber Orchestra: eight musicians playing heavy-ish music with a (somewhat) lighter touch. The sound is — given the relative seniority of the band — age-appropriate. This group does not pack the metallic wallop of the 2000-2003 group. It also lacks Adrian Belew, which is an admitted personal sore spot. He is one of the main reasons for my ultra fandom.
With this configuration — which features three drummers in the front row onstage and everyone else in the back line — band founder and guitarist Robert Fripp has accomplished two things: first, he has found a way to revisit Crimson’s 1969-74 repertoire in a way that amuses him and satisfies older fans clamoring for this material; secondly, the band has no true front man. This band was designed to play live, and that’s just what they’ve done since 2014.
Personal issues aside, this is an extraordinary group of musicians. In the liner notes, Fripp calls this lineup “definitive,” and it’s hard to argue. They take to the material with relish, making the most of every performance and giving the ’69-’74 material a more modern take. Songs I’ve never taken to heart, like “The Sailor’s Tale” and “Pictures of a City” leap out of the speakers. New songs like “Meltdown” and “Radical Action II” are more than serviceable. This band is in The Zone, and totally in command of itself and its material.
That being said, I find the use of flutes somewhat irritating more often than not. Mel Collins’s saxophone playing is on point, and augments the music beautifully. The flute, on the other hand, tends to suck the heavy out of more than a few songs, like the bridge in “Red.” The flute does work perfectly for “In the Court of the Crimson King.” I give credit where it’s due.
I can also feel the absence of Belew in key places, like where Collins takes over for Belew’s hairy guitar parts, the missing vocal track on “Neurotica,” or where Jakszyk and Levin sing Belew’s spoken word vocal on “Indiscipline,” all but destroying the piece (which features a killer drum intro) for me.
In the grand scheme, my gripes are minor. This is a rock-solid performance, well worthy of one’s collection. Veteran fans will adore the way this material is presented. Newcomers will find a remarkable entry point into the world of a progressive rock pioneer. Not only are we treated to a fantastic concert, but the set also includes a few “official bootlegs,” including a fantastic rendition of the Fripp classic “Breathless.”
Next year marks King Crimson’s 50th anniversary, and a tour is planned. My personal dream would be for the return of Belew, who would sing and play on the post-1981 songs, while Jakszyk handles the older material. This is doubtful, of course.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Fripp decides to hang it up once that tour ends. There will be nothing left to prove. If the band does “cease to exist,” as its founder likes to say, I can’t help but think of a lyric from Adrian Belew, which I’m paraphrasing: what a legacy they’ll be leaving behind.