he members of King Crimson always tended more to their music than their image. They pre-dated the age of MTV, then largely shunned music videos when they became popular. Robert Fripp always dressed well, but he preferred to sit at his Mellotron, fiddle with his guitar, and leave the forward-facing fashion to collaborators like David Bowie, Brian Eno, or David Sylvian. (Greg Lake was a pretty-boy, but he didn’t stay long in the band before he left for fame and fortune with Emerson, Lake & Palmer.)
Their live performance is a completely different story. Led by Fripp, this revolving-door cast of musicians has consistently taken a bona-fide kick-ass show out on the road over the last thirty years. In doing so, they’ve inexorably tangled their frenetic musical performances and technical mastery into the King Crimson identity. We’re lucky to be able to share a few clips with you here.
Sadly, little quality footage remains of the band’s early days. This is a clip from the group’s debut show, a high-profile free concert at Hyde Park in London. Organized by the Rolling Stones in July 1969, the concert had special significance due to the recent death of erstwhile Stone Brian Jones. Over 600,000 attended.
Unfortunately, the live audio for the song, a standout cut from the group’s October ‘69 debut In the Court of the Crimson King, was later overdubbed by a studio version.
The King Crimson you see here is almost completely different from the Crimson of the “21st Century Schizoid Man” era. In fact, Fripp had dealt with two total line-up changes in the three albums between Crimson King and 1973’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. Whereas the previous line-ups had attempted to build on the jazzy progressive rock of their debut, Fripp took a harsher rock approach with this new band.
A November 1974 NME article (reproduced in the 30th-anniversary reissue of 1974’s Red) has drummer Bill Bruford talking about leaving Yes for King Crimson two years prior and subsequently being assigned a drumming instructor by Fripp. It’s hard to imagine that kind of domineering vibe during the “Larks’ Tongues” performance, which includes Bruford drumming along with a trippy and wandering Jamie Muir (hired as his “instructor”). By the time of the Central Park improvisation, Muir had left the line-up and Bruford had gained some autonomy. That improvisation follows a performance of “Easy Money.”
By late 1974, Fripp would disband the hard-rock King Crimson. Tired with the pressures of touring with a full band, Fripp railed against the “dinosaurs” of rock and desired the ability to perform as a “small, mobile, intelligent unit.” His solution was to tour the world as a solo act using Frippertronics, a tape-loop setup devised with Brian Eno. Here, Fripp demonstrates an application of Frippertronics by improvising a solo over the tape loop.
The King Crimson line-up of the 80s (Fripp and Bruford joined by Adrian Belew on guitar/vocals and Tony Levin on Chapman Stick) rebooted Crimson with a New Wave-influenced sound.
Belew and Levin brought their respective signature sounds to the new band. “Elephant Talk’s” main riff showcases Levin’s mastery of “the Stick,” a percussive cousin of the bass guitar. Meanwhile, Belew’s animalistic guitar affectations complement Fripp’s meticulously voiced guitar noodlings. At first, Belew still had a little David Byrne hangover, in dress and vocal style, from working on the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. However, the talented jokester’s vocals would settle into their own style by 1982’s Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984.
Old conflicts still remained; for example, Fripp and Bruford were still at odds over the drummer’s style. Specifically, during the sessions that became 1981’s Discipline, Fripp persuaded Bruford to find an alternative to cymbals because he felt they walked all over the guitar parts. One of Bruford’s thoughtful solutions (detailed in the documentary Bruford and the Beat) was to employ a slit drum, which forms the percussive backbone of Discipline’s title track.
In the mid ‘90s, Fripp formed a “double trio” incarnation of the group, adding bassist Trey Gun and drummer Pat Mastelloto. In these videos, that heavy line-up performs some tracks from both the ‘70s Red and ‘80s Discipline eras. Minus Gunn and Bruford, this line-up still performs and records today.
Finally, here are some fun videos of our animal-lovin’ guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew doing his own thing…
A Bowie-penned track that appeared on Belew’s 1990 solo album Young Lions. Gives ”Dancing in the Street” a run for its money for worst Bowie video appearance.
Belew has always prided himself on his ability to reproduce animal (as well as orchestral) sounds on his guitar. Some genius at Daikin decided that this talent qualified Adrian to become the new face of their company.