Review Summary: Back to basics in 2015.
You know, at this point a King Crimson live album is more of a punchline than another typical release. Yes, some bands do go out of their way to supply hardcore fans with a massive amount of recordings, but how much is too much? With King Crimson, there are 160+ live recordings, fifteen of those being actual legitimate live albums available to the public and not just exclusive to DGM Live – the band’s website – as digital-only releases. Getting that out of the way, one of the main fifteen live albums by the renowned group is ”Live at the Orpheum”
, a brand-new recording from the recent reunion tour of the States. Clocking in at a meager forty minutes, ”Orpheum”
leaves much to the expectations of the listener hoping for something more. At such a short length, ”Orpheum”
barely even covers the repertoire of the band’s touring material, featuring only six tunes and the obligatory “walk-on”; this time around, the “run-off” recording from the end of 1971’s ”Islands”
– here it’s known as ”Monk Morph Chamber Music”
. This recording, as with other previous “walk-ons”, was used to introduce the band and to set their live show in motion.
There’s a distinct lack of improvisation this time around, with the nucleus of the live show being straightforward renditions of classic tracks. This could be a relieving idea to some, but the loss of the band’s most notorious trait really affects the band as a whole. The only track of its kind, ”Banshee Legs Bell Hassle”
is a short but effective improvisation by the newly-christened “drum trio” (consisting of Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto). Mel Collins, Robert Fripp and Tony Levin supplement the material played on the album greatly, most notably Collins, who adds a “windy” touch to the oft-maligned ”ConstruKction of Light”
, now re-tooled to suit the new Crimson. Levin and Fripp do their part to make the best of their work, the former adding his soaring backing vocals as well providing great, fluid bass work to compliment the powerful other half of the rhythm section. On the other hand, Fripp, in the usual nature of being the Robert Fripp, is technical, but has an edge to his playing that once seemed to be lost with not only his advancing age, but the extremely monotonous projects (or “ProjeKcts”) from the 1990s and 2000s. He is quoted saying this is the first incarnation of King Crimson he has fully enjoyed being with, and his performance on this album supports that statement. Never before has Fripp sounded livelier. As for newcomer, and former “Schizoid Band” front man Jakko Jakszyk, he still has some work to do. He excels at getting his parts down to Crimson standard, but in vocal terms, he lacks in many departments. Ranging from the “power” of his voice, to his delivery, it all needs improving on. ”Starless”
for example, benefitted from the extra guitarist, but with Jakszyk, the delivery of the vocal wasn’t up to par – an astounding let-down to say the least. In parts where others soared, he floundered – not to say he does a bad job overall. In tracks such as ”The Letters”
, he promptly succeeds at equaling (or even surpassing) Boz Burrell’s original performance from ”Islands”
, but just can’t come close to stuff like ”One More Red Nightmare”
. To put it straight, he is desperately lacking in the vocal department.
Going back to the “drum trio”, they offer a cacophony of noise, playing three separate drum parts at once (or at a time, depending on the song being played). Problem is, it only serves as a reminder of who was once behind the kit – and he-who-shall-not-be-named. The trio does a stellar job, but lack focus as a group in holding the band’s sound together. Overall, this new incarnation of King Crimson as a whole does a relatively fine job, but requires more time to gel – something that will be put to the test whenever they tour the United Kingdom this year. Something that needs to be changed for the better is the fact that King Crimson was perhaps “playing it safe”, going for a more leisure pace (a very, very un-Crimson-like thing to do, especially live).
If King Crimson can shake off the “play-it-safe” mentality with some tunes (the ”Red”
songs in particular), the band will greatly benefit as a result, without a doubt in my mind. This incarnation needs time to develop in order to become a far greater, functioning band. It seems as Robert Fripp is more patient this time around, and is willing to let this band develop on its own, unlike in previous incarnations where he seemingly forced band members to develop at the pace he wanted (and this is exactly how the ”Lizard”
incarnation broke down, and how its successor did when Fripp attempted to get the band to play an prototypical version of ”Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part One)”
instead of openly listening to fellow bandmates’ suggestions on new compositions). Fripp in his advancing age is truly enjoying playing in King Crimson for the first time in what seems like ages – literally.