On September 5th, my father and I made the trek to the Fox Theater in Oakland. The venue was perfect for the band, with its vaguely eastern like interior with glowing statues and intricate furnishings. It had been a long 2 years since I had last seen the band in the flesh.
The lights went down and the band came out to a roaring ovation from the crowd. The gathering of the tribes had begun, and the band took their places at the figurative head of the table.
The opening bells of “Larks Tongues In Aspics Part I” sent the crowd into a frenzy as one by one the band members joined the fray with Tony Levin, Jakko Jakszyk and Robert Fripp trading licks over the drum beats of Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison and saxophone work of Mel Collins. Mel in particular was in a humorous mood as strains of The Champs – “Tequila” came through during his solo in LTIA I to the audience’s praise and applause. This small action set the mood for the entire show, as the band pushed their boundaries and spread their wings to the approval of the crowd.
Next up was a reworked version of “Suitable Grounds For The Blues” followed by a reworked version of “Red.” “Red” in particular has significantly improved over the previous renditions from the 2015 and 2017 tours. Of note was the fact that Jeremy was now handling the bulk of keyboard duties as Bill Rieflin was on sabbatical for this round of touring.
“Moonchild” was a welcome surprise as it was one of the few songs played by the new incarnation of Crim that I have not heard either in person or through the bands various live albums. The linking cadenzas from Tony, Robert and Jeremy bounced between fun (with Tony following Mel’s lead on playing a snippet of Tequila) to mournful (Fripp bringing out the soundscapes over a silenced crowd) to somewhere in the middle (Jeremy’s playful keyboard solo).
The standard bearer “Epitaph” was next up, with the band doing an excellent job of replicating the sense of dread that permeates the studio recording. After a short drumson break, the band launched into the other big surprise of the night, the grueling Larks Tongues In Aspic Part IV. This was another track I had not heard this incarnation of Crim play live before. The song can only be described as brutal, with Tony’s bass doing its best to match Trey Gunn’s original Warr Guitar parts, complete with seemingly impossible hand movements. The intro piano of Cirkus kicked in soon afterwards, with Robert demonstrating his prowess on mellotron has not dimmed over the years.
This was followed by two choice cuts from the Discipline album. I was initially concerned with being let down by the bands take on Frame by Frame and Indiscipline as I was quite enamored to the live versions featuring former singer/guitarist Adrian Belew. To my relief, the band’s versions payed tribute to the old but continued with the new. Indiscipline in particular was a crowd favorite with Pat leading a long call and response on drums between himself, Gavin, and Jeremy. A new feature that differed from the previous arrangement I heard during the 2017 tour was that of a few hidden samples of Adrian’s original vocal performance buried behind Jakko’s live performance.
After a short intermission (which Robert pointed out in the opening recording happens “after the first set and before the second set”) the band launched into a mighty set of drumsons before abruptly breaking off into the calm and serene “Islands”. This abrupt change was the biggest fault I could find with the show, as it gave me a sense of whiplash moving from the strong and up-front drumming to the emotional and pensive “Islands”.
Things picked up with a rip-roaring version of “Easy Money” with a new set of lyrics to reflect the uncertain times the band is touring in and an expanded outro channeling shades of “Fracture” by Robert. The snarling guitars and harsh electronic drums let the audience know that they were preparing to descend to “Level V.” The arrangement had not changed much since its debut by the current lineup but still packs a mighty punch.
The audience roar and excitement reached its peak when the distinctive strains of “Starless” filled the venue to the band’s approval. While the band did indeed bring the house down with this performance, I still remain unsatisfied, especially when compared to the mystical sounds that fill the studio cut off of Red.
As for the encore, the band brought out The Court of the Crimson King with all its might and grandeur. A special treat was the addition of “The Dance of the Puppets” coda, a recent edition to the setlist. While the usual follow-up of Schizoid Man was not present, it nevertheless did its job and brought both the house down and ended out the show. Oddly enough, it was the only other letdown, as the previous show I had been treated to the mighty encore of Heroes, Larks Tongues In Aspic Part II, Court and 21CSM.
Overall, a wonderful show that combines visions of the past up to speed with the present and possible future of this storied band.