King Crimson

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

STRIKINGLY unlikely though it is, this eight-piece incarnation of Robert Fripp’s prog-rock band, half a century on from King Crimson’s inception, is shaping up to be the most stable and established of its existence. And although everyone on stage is prodigiously talented, and encouraged to demonstrate their virtuosity, there is still no doubt who is calling the shots, notoriously taxing band-leader that he is.

Behind his Les Paul guitar and sampling keyboard, this Fripp is still perched on a stool watching like a hawk, although he occasionally cracks a smile these days. Arrayed to his right are guitarist and vocalist Jakko Jakszyk, Bill Rieflin on keyboards, bassist Tony Levin and Mel Collins on saxes and flutes, while in front are the three drum kits of Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey, and Gavin Harrison. Whatever brought about this radical approach to revisiting the group’s extensive back catalogue – and it has developed over the past few years – it was inspired, and the octet now ranges over the entire output of a band whose music has dated much less than many of its contemporaries with something approaching relaxed ease.

Of all the ingredients, Pete Sinfield’s lyrics on the earliest songs are most obviously of their time, and the singing of Jakszyk is never Greg Lake, John Wetton or Adrian Belew, even if he can match Fripp note for note on the fretboard. There are some small technical glitches – notably with the amplification of the band-leader’s guitar at the start – and the meshing of the drummers, while pretty much flawless on the material played after the interval, occasionally came slightly unstuck earlier.

But crucially, in an age of all sorts of digital assistance and from a stage festooned with technology, every note is blisteringly, searingly, live in its crystalline clarity, every note traceable to its originator, no matter the complexity of the ensemble sound.

Fripp, Levin and Harrison all added superbly musical solos, but it is Collins who has most room to improvise amid the immaculate arrangements, and he was on absolutely stellar form, adding a quotation from I Belong to Glasgow to one of his first excursions and Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train to one of the last.