King Crimson live at The Nokia Theatre, Times Square, New York City, August 14, 2008

 

UPDATE I: Welcome to all visitors from DGMLive, and many thanks to Sid for such a high-profile link to this humble blog. I appreciate the kind comments, and especially welcome what is certainly The Dork Report’s first and only celebrity guest, none other than Patricia Fripp!

UPDATE II: I’ve also posted my thoughts about the Saturday, August 16 show. As positive as the below review of Thursday is, Crimson blew it away with a real corker on Saturday.

Last night was the first in the extended grand finale of King Crimson’s 40th Anniversary Tour: a four-night stand at The Nokia Theatre in Times Square, New York City. I hope any random readers that stumble upon this blog entry looking for a blow-by-blow review will excuse this Dork Reporter as he indulges himself with a few observations on Crimson in general before getting around to talking about last night’s concert.

King Crimson live at The Nokia Theater Times Square New YorkI turned my phone off after this picture, I swear

Despite the band’s considerable longevity, the legendary King Crimson has never enjoyed fame or commercial success on a par with many of their so-called “progressive rock” peers (the pejorative term has never really fit King Crimson anyway). Witness, for example, the massively lucrative 2007 world tour by Genesis, itself originally influenced by King Crimson’s 1969 debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. Crimson’s relatively low profile is nobody’s fault but their own, and it is no accident. Crimson has been aggressively uncompromising from the very beginning, rarely willing to coast on past glories or cash-in with grand reunion tours (although many of the original members have toured under the name 21st Century Schizoid Band). It’s worth noting that Crimson has made certain half-hearted forays into the real world of commercialism, having filmed at least one music video (for Sleepless in 1984) and lip-synced their eccentric pop novelty Cat Food on Top of the Pops in 1970. But even so, King Crimson has proven time and again that it would rather break up (sometimes leaving real money on the table) than repeat itself. Huge chunks of their songbook are resistant to casual listening, and let’s be honest, many fans take a snooty pride in Crimson’s low profile and high barrier to entry.

King Crimson is in a constant state of evolution, and many successive incarnations made radical breaks from the past: the original 1969 configuration of the band was born in the hippie era, but had a unique blend of proto-metal aggression (21st Century Schizoid Man) and Mellotron-driven dirges (Epitaph). The 1971-72 band shed much of this portentous weight in favor of jazz-rock improvisation and filthy jokiness (Ladies of the Road). The 1973-74 version dove even deeper into jazz fusion (driven in part by master drummer Bill Bruford), but also unleashed some of the most intense metal instrumentals of Crimson’s entire lifetime. Crimson flamed out in 1974, but reappeared in its most radically new form yet in 1981-84, exploring guitar and drum synthesizers and giving birth to a genre that didn’t even have a name until decades later: “math rock.” King Crimson reappeared yet again in 1994, this time as a “double trio” comprised of paired guitars, drums, and basses. Later, a stripped-down quartet produced two albums of its most difficult (in a good, challenging way) music in 2001-2003.

King Crimson live at The Nokia Theater Times Square New YorkProof positive: I was there! Should’ve sprung for a better seat, though…

But all this is preamble. Now, the 2008 King Crimson is all about the rhythm section, and it was reflected in last night’s live mix. Bassist Tony Levin and drummers Pat Mastelotto and Gavin Harrison were very LOUD in the mix, sometimes relegating guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew to supporting roles. Mastelotto and Harrison played three pieces alone (B’Boom and two new untitled drum pieces), and dominated several others (including whole chunks of the thrillingly rearranged Neurotica and Level Five). I’m a huge fan of Trey Gunn (touchstyle guitarist in King Crimson between 1994-2003), having been to two of his solo shows, but boy is it great to hear Tony Levin back in the band. No one stands astride a stage like Levin, playing the bass like the lead instrument it so rarely is.

Although Robert Fripp has been the one consistent member of King Crimson over its 40-year history, it has never been entirely accurate to call it his band (one might even say it’s Adrian Belew’s band, considering his massive songwriting contributions over the years, not to mention his responsibilities as live frontman). Truth be told, Fripp might be fairly described as eccentric, certainly among other rock guitarists. His composition and style of guitar playing are utterly unique, born more from the European classical tradition than blues or jazz. He has also stood apart for his crusading stance against exploitation of musicians by record companies (long before it became cool). Fripp, now 62, has been blogging for years and making noises about retiring from touring for some time now. On the last League of Crafty Guitarists tour in November 2007, he performed partially obscured by his infamous imposing rack of electronics dubbed the Solar Voyager. Evidently, he was road-testing a new mode of playing live, and I would surmise that this new configuration is part of how he conceived of making this latest King Crimson tour possible for him on a personal and professional level. He also now wears large headphones, probably just as much to hear the rest of the band clearly as he does to blot out the sound of dopey audience catcalls. Regrettably, it’s a long-standing King Crimson tradition for the Douchebag Brigade (whom Fripp would call “Basement Dwellers”) to call out facetious requests for songs they know well Crimson will never play (“Moonchild!”) and sometimes just the last names of their heroes, whether or not they are currently in the band (“Bruuuuuford!”). Fripp’s new level of disconnection from the audience may allow him to focus on his bandmates and the music, but it also served to only increase the amount of catcalls from the Douchebag Brigade: “Fripp, show yourself” etc.

Last night, Crimson came right out of the gate with one of their most challenging pieces, The Construkction of Light. Frankly, it was noticeably wobbly at first, probably even to people who weren’t familiar with it. The band’s fumbling was worrisome, but I shouldn’t have doubted; the first section of the piece is by its nature a long, minimalist tension-and-release build-up, and Belew was suffering from technical difficulties (some very noticeable snaps, crackles and pops). A guitar tech solved his troubles before the song kicked into high gear and I was practically dancing in my seat (well, as best I could, considering its odd time signature).

The Construkction of Light was impenetrable to me on first listen in 2000, but Level Five remains a mystery. I still, even now, can’t wrap my brain around it. It was by far the most challenging piece they played last night, in a set list made up largely of what passes for popular favorites in the King Crimson songbook. Level Five is frankly hard work to listen to, and definitely not something I would select to introduce a novice to Crimson.

But as I said, most of the rest of the night was true to its billing as a 40th Anniversary Celebration: Crimson reveled in many of the most rocking pieces they’ve ever composed. The Talking Drum, a piece that starts from total silence on record, now blasts out intensely from its very first note, and builds to a literally screaming climax that in turn explodes into Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II. Larks, together with Red, can always be counted on to blow everyone’s hair back, and maybe the doors off the venue. I believe Fripp has a famous quote about Crimson being able to shred wallpaper at a distance of miles?

King Crimson live at The Nokia Theater Times Square New YorkHeat in the jungle streets

The beautiful ballad Walking on Air provided a break from all the intensity, but it didn’t last long. Fripp, playing more of a supportive role than ever before, stepped out for once and truly cooked in Dinosaur. Dinosaur is also, incidentally, the one song that separates the true Crimson fans from the weekend warriors: anyone who claps during the false ending is a n00b. Crimson closed with a rip-roaring rendition of Vrooom, but Fripp’s lead melody lines in the coda were sadly omitted (he did, however, play them with The League of Crafty Guitarists when I saw them last November). Although I’m fully aware that the evening was not about me and I don’t get to choose, I have to admit I was bummed to not hear Sleepless. I had read on DGMLive.com that they had played it earlier on the tour, and as I loved the 1995 arrangement of the piece heard on the live album B’Boom, I was very much looking forward to hearing this version of the band tackle it.

A few notes about The Nokia Theatre: it was a massive movie theater once upon a time (I recall seeing the hilariously horrible Anaconda there in 1997), but is now a huge, modern concert venue. I love a good pint of beer as much as the next guy, but my heart always sinks when I attend concerts at venues that serve alcohol. There is always a contingent that overindulges and acts out in a way that is evidently amusing to them but annoying to everyone else. I noticed a bunch of obese bald dudes on the lower right of the floor that were obviously drunk and/or high, and no doubt ruining the experience for everyone around them. Also, the venue had video cameras trained on the stage throughout, which very much surprised me, given Fripp’s emphatically-stated objections to the obstructive process of filming concerts. They even managed to capture him on screen at one point, despite his being largely obscured from view (during Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II, I believe). Perhaps someone from Crimson’s road crew had a word with the videographers, because he never appeared on screen again.

One little bit of trivia: a noticed a familiar-looking guy pacing up and down the aisles before and after the show. I thought at first that maybe I might have known him from somewhere, professionally or personally, until it suddenly hit me it might be Tony Geballe, former Crafty Guitarist and member of The Trey Gunn Band. What was he up to? Was he, as a member of the extended King Crimson family, tasked by the band to police the audience for illicit bootleggers? Anyway, whether it was him or not, Geballe is a great guitar player, and I recommend checking out his album Native of the Rain.

I’ve now seen King Crimson three times, first in 1995 in Philadelphia and then in 2001 in New York City. It was a delight to see them again last night, in a slightly rough-and-tumble but exhilarating performance. I look forward to catching them again tomorrow night, and plan on posting some more thoughts on The Dork Report later.

Thanks for reading, to anyone that made it this far! Please leave a comment if you have anything to add.


Official King Crimson site: DGMLive.com

Must view: Tony Levin’s photos of Thursday’s concert

Must read: David Fricke’s Rolling Stone review of Thursday’s concert

Joseph Arthur, live at Maxwell’s, Hoboken

 

Joseph Arthur, live at Maxwell's, HobokenJoseph Arthur, live at Maxwell’s, Hoboken

Set List:

  1. unknown
  2. Even When Yer Blue
  3. Lonely Astronaut
  4. Enough to Get Away
  5. King of the Pavement
  6. Only You Can Drive
  7. Blue Lips
  8. Take Me Home
  9. Temporary People
  10. When I Was Running Out of Time
  11. Don’t Tell Your Eyes
  12. Slide Away
  13. You Can Take Everything Away From Me
  14. Say Goodbye
  15. Honey and the Moon

Joseph Arthur, live at Maxwell's, HobokenJoseph Arthur, live at Maxwell’s, Hoboken

Official site: www.josepharthur.com

Pre-order the upcoming Joseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts’s album Temporary People from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.

Joseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts, live at The Bowery Ballroom, New York

 

Joseph Arthur and The Lonely Astronauts, live at The Bowery Ballroom, New YorkJoseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts, live at The Bowery Ballroom, New York

Set List:

  1. unknown
  2. Devil’s Broom
  3. Electical Storm
  4. Slide Away
  5. One By One
  6. Could We Survive
  7. Redemption’s Son
  8. Chicago
  9. unknown
  10. You Can Take Everything Away From Me
  11. Black Lexus
  12. Too Much To Hide
  13. Spacemen
  14. Take Me Home
  15. Temporary People
  16. Enough to Get Away
  17. Cocaine Feet
  18. Birthday Card
  19. In the Sun
  20. I Will Carry
  21. I Donated Myself the Mexican Army

Joseph Arthur and The Lonely Astronauts, live at The Bowery Ballroom, New YorkJoseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts, live at The Bowery Ballroom, New York

Official site: www.josepharthur.com

Pre-order the upcoming Joseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts’s album Temporary People from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.

Laura Veirs, Bowery Ballroom, New York

 

This Dork Reporter has been a big fan of the bespectacled, water-obsessed Laura Veirs ever since first discovering her infectious song “Galaxies” on the late MP3 blog Salon Audiofile in 2005. Why it was not a huge hit, featured in iPod or car commercials and embedded in the denouements of The O.C. or Gray’s Anatomy, I’ll never understand. Still, she’s evidently doing well for herself, for I’ve now seen her live three times in New York City, and each time she’s graduated to a larger venue.

Laura Veirs

This is the first time I’ve seen her perform solo, without her band The Saltbreakers (whom she lovingly refers to as The Bearded Men). Like seemingly every other singer/songwriter these days, she employs live looping technology (popularized by Joseph Arthur and ripped off by K.T. Tunstall) to become a one-woman band, accompanying herself with looped beats and bass lines all generated on a single acoustic guitar. The mood was great and she was well-received, and she later ranked New York City as the best audience of the tour.

Laura Veirs

Official site: www.lauraveirs.com

Buy Laura Veirs’ latest album Saltbreakers from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.

The Musical Box – Highline Ballroom, New York

 

The Musical Box is a Canadian group that stages elaborate recreations of entire concerts given by the English progressive rock band Genesis in the early 1970s. They perform closely-observed note-for-note cover versions of the original songs, in the original set list order, with full recreations of the set design, props, costumes, vintage instruments, and even the mannerisms of the original Genesis. So while it is technically true that they are essentially a cover band, how many of those tour the world several times over and land gigs at significant venues like The Highline Ballroom? It speaks to both the integrity of the original Genesis music and to The Musical Box’s own skills that they are not a mere tribute band gigging through bars and frat houses.

The Musical Box

At the Highline Ballroom, The Musical Box performed Genesis’ famed “Black Show,” originally in support of the 1973 album Selling England By the Pound, and widely bootlegged as the “Rainbow Show”. Genesis’ typical “White Show” was more elaborately staged, but due to venue requirements and the troubles of shipping their gear internationally, they would sometimes play the stripped-down Black Show, so known for its low stage lighting and simple black backdrop. The Musical Box’s performance had amazing sound fidelity, and was one of the best-sounding live concerts I’ve ever heard. No doubt the actual Genesis (many of whom have seen The Musical Box live and have even sat in with them on occasion) wish they had such modern audio technology at their disposal in the early 1970s.

The members of The Musical Box are as much actors as they are crack musicians. Fittingly, Peter Gabriel himself was mostly acting onstage; the famously shy young man masked his discomfort with an outlandish stage persona full of costumes, masks, and mime. Denis Gagné is perhaps a touch too old to play a stringbean-thin Gabriel in his early twenties, but does an extraordinary job of capturing his vocals and stage presence, right down to the hilariously filthy stories Gabriel used to tell between songs as the rest of the band retuned their instruments.

The Musical Box

The only performer out of 70s bell-bottom costume was Gregg Bendian as “Phil Collins.” He was, however, paradoxically one of the most authentic performers, recreating Collins’ unmistakably muscular and enthusiastic drumming. After becoming famous as a television actor and cheesy pop superstar in the 1980s, It’s easy to forget that Collins is first and foremost one of rock’s best drummers.

The Musical Box

The rest of Genesis was very serious and reserved, and relied on Gabriel to engage the audience as they played. Sébastien Lamothe enlivens the bearded, serious Steve Hackett’s guitar embellishments (not one of Genesis’ core songwriters, Hackett was however a brilliant guitarist and one of the inventors of the two-handed tapping technique). Sébastien Lamothe straps on a genuine double-necked Rickenbocker to play Mike Rutherford, with the dedication to verisimilitude to grow a full beard and flowing locks. David Myers plays Tony Banks, the stoic unsmiling anchor on stage right, but sadly relies on modern synthesizers (nothing compares to the raw sound of an actual Mellotron).

And finally, a cheap shot: the audience was far from the usual sort seen at New York City venues. A noticeably older set, with a very strong dork flavor (with shirts tucked in over pot bellies), but there was a surprising number of women (not traditionally an audience for progressive rock).

The Musical Box

A few notes on the songs:

• Cinema Show – it’s difficult to fully appreciate the very long (approx. 5 minutes!) instrumental power trio sequence featuring Collins, Banks, Rutherford until you witness it live. Wow! Genesis was a lot “heavier” than I ever realized from simply listening to the albums.

• Firth of Fifth – Steve Hackett’s hair-raising melody line must be one of the best guitar moments in rock, ever, and no doubt Lamothe relishes playing it live.

• The Musical Box – the coda sequence (during which Gabriel famously wore a grotesque “old man” mask) drove the crowd bananas. Clearly the band is aware of the song’s power, for they took their name from it.

• The Battle of Epping Forest is the rare classic Genesis song that I haven’t already memorized over the years. Gabriel affected lots of character voices in the original, and thus this is perhaps the one point when Gagné’s impersonation fails him.

• Supper’s Ready – had The Musical Box not already provided a premature climax to the show, the closing “Apocalypse” sequence to Supper’s Ready would have been it.

• The Knife (encore) – why aren’t Genesis credited more often for recording one of the earliest hard rock songs? The Knife is so dark, loud, and aggressive, it could possibly even be called metal.


Official site: themusicalbox.net

Joseph Arthur – Bowery Ballroom, New York

 

Joseph Arthur and Michael Stipe

I hope to post my reactions soon (the five stars should give a hint as to the general tone), but in the meantime, here’s some coverage of the show on the web: The Tripwire’s review features excellent photographs by Erin Chandler. Billboard also reviews the show and posts a video of Joseph’s duet with Michael Stipe on "In the Sun."

Yo La Tengo

 

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City

New York (or should I say Hoboken) institution Yo La Tengo performs a live score to several of French filmmaker Jean Painlevé‘s underwater documentaries. Interestingly, English subtitles indicate the films were apparently not silent in their original form, with narration and perhaps scores of their own. So not only is the audience’s experience of the films filtered through a spoken-French-to-written-English translation, but also by Yo La Tengo’s contemporary score.

Most of the films concerned the mating rituals and birth cycles of sea creatures ranging from octopi to mollusks. A rare intrusion of a human hand is seen during the dissection of a pregnant male sea horse. Without seeing the films in their original form, it’s hard to judge if they were clinical or artful in tone. Only one film was clearly intended to be abstract: a series of images of vividly colored liquids crystalizing, evoking the “Beyond Infinity” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Yo La Tengo’s musical interpretation transformed nearly every sequence into a dreamlike, non-literal cinematic experience.

I’m curious… was the band influenced by the original soundtracks? To what degree was the performance planned and/or improvised?