Come October of this year, legendary prog rockers King Crimson will be celebrating a milestone: their critically acclaimed debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, will be turning 50. In celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary, the band have been on their 2019 Celebration Tour. On September 23rd, the band made a stop in Philadelphia, PA at the Met- where they performed a concert before an audience of all ages. This marks the band’s first time performing in Philadelphia since September 2014- where the band performed at the Verizon Hall for two dates.
In their years together, the band have been through many line up changes- with guitarist/co-founder Robert Fripp being the band’s sole consistent member. In their original run from 1969 to 1975, the band released seven studio albums. The band would reunite sporadically afterwards in each of the following decades, releasing at least one studio album in each (sans the 2010s). King Crimson currently consists:
Robert Fripp- guitar/keyboards/electronic
Jakko Jakszyk- guitar/vocals (since 2013)
Tony Levin- bass (joined in 1981 for Discipline and in/out of the band onward)
Pat Mastellotto- drums (since 1994)
Gavin Harrison- drums (since 2007)
Jeremy Stacey- drums (since 2015)
Mel Collins- saxophone/flute (in the band 1970-72 on Lizard and Islands)
Coming into the Met in Philadelphia, it was quite the experience. Looking around the place, there were concert goers of all ages. From teenagers probably attending their first Crimson concert to veteran fans donning shirts of album covers and previous tours, the band certainly pulls in a unique group of people. Over the speakers, the eerie sounds of what sounded like fingers rubbing wine glasses filled throughout the venue. Prior to coming out on stage, a recording of Robert Fripp played on the speakers- asking for the audience to not take any pictures or videos until the very end of the show. With that, the audience could become immersed in the world of King Crimson. A little after 8 pm, the band walked out onstage and began. Without one word spoken to the audience, the band performed a 20-song set in two sets- only pausing for a 20 minute intermission.
When it comes to the genre of progressive rock, some bands will go all out on their live shows- with big screens and elaborate stage designs. For King Crimson, this wasn’t the case: the band simply walked on stage, waved hello to the audience and took their spots on stage. The band’s three drummers were up front while everyone else was behind them. With only a blue curtain backdrop, this was as bare bones as you could possibly get for a visual setting. However, the sounds that came out of all seven members of King Crimson proved that no visual setting was required: all you needed was your ears.
The band’s setlist spanned over the course of five decades of music, with at least one song from almost all the band’s studio albums (sans Starless and Bible Black, Three of a Perfect Pair and THRAK). The first song to get any big reaction out of the audience was the hard-driving rock sounds of “Red,” the six-minute opener from the band’s 1974 album of the same name. Even 45 yearsafter its release, the band played the song almost exactly as it was on the album- with the addition of Mel Collins’ saxophone playing. Favorites followed in the form of “Cat Food” and “Frame by Frame.” The former is quirky cut from In the Wake of Poseidon while the latter is a fun new wave-ridden track from Discipline. The band also played every song from In The Court, with the exception of “I Talk to the Wind.” In the first set, the band played nearly perfect renditions of “Moonchild” and “Epitaph.” The latter was particularly remarkable as singer/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk gave a powerful vocal performance. As a song dealing with the subject of a nuclear holocaust, Jakszyk was able to hone in on the song’s bleak nature.
Jakszyk shined throughout the concert. Whenever a band hires a new lead singer, that person takes on the difficult task of pulling of the songs that were meant for the previous person to sing. For Jakszyk, he finds himself filling in the big shoes of musicians such as Greg Lake, John Wetton, Gordon Haskell, Boz Burrell and Adrian Belew. Throughout the night, Jakszyk was in fine form as he was able to tackle all of the songs performed. The aforementioned “Epitaph” is an example of this. Another one the night’s stand-out performances was the band’s ska-flavored rendition of “Indiscipline.” While the original song on Discipline was performed spoken word by Adrian Belew, Jakszyk sang it instead. Jakszyk was also particularly strong on “Islands,” in which his voice sounded nearly identical to that of Boz Burrell’s. Throughout the night, Jakszky was a sight to be seen as he played a guitar with the iconic cover of the band’s debut embossed on it.
The rest of the band were able to shine throughout the show. The three-man drumming team of Pat Mastellotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey were a driving force, sometimes receiving applause before a song could end. Bassist Tony Levin also dazzled as he played not only a variety of bass guitars but also his Chapman Stick- a slender twelve stringed instrument that Levin is renowned for being a master at. While known for his many years of service in the band, Levin is also known for his work as a session musician for artists such as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Alice Cooper, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. With a name as notable as his, seeing Levin play was a treat.
As for co-founder Robert Fripp, he was in his element all through the concert. In the world of rock guitarists, Fripp is certainly unique: unlike most of his peers, Fripp sits while he plays- as if he were a musician in an orchestra. Equipped with his guitar, keyboards, headphones and other assorted electronics- Fripp almost serves as the motherboard of King Crimson. However, of the members in the band- seeing Mel Collins perform was surreal. Prior to rejoining in 2013, Collins was on the band’s third and fourth albums. With the exception of two songs, all of the songs in the setlist were either from before or after Collins was in the band. It was unique to hear Collins play saxophone on songs that didn’t originally have it.
If there were any drawbacks to the show, it would be in the setlist. While a fairly diverse set, there were a few too many songs played from the band’s later years in the 2000s and 2010s- including newer songs that haven’t been released on a studio album. Speaking as a fan of the band’s original seven albums, it would’ve been nice to hear maybe “The Great Deceiver” or the first two parts of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.” However, the later material was still great as the band performed every song with such force. The band did close the night out on a strong note- with incredible performances of “The Court of the Crimson King” and “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Listening to these songs in a live setting was amazing, especially for the former. Listening to the band surge into the song’s heavenly chorus could give the concertgoer butterflies.
Overall, spending the evening with King Crimson is one of the most unique concert experiences you’ll ever have. If they come anywhere near you, make an effort to go and see them in concert. Even after fifty years, the Crimson Kings still reign in power.
- Hell Hounds of Krim
- Suitable Grounds for the Blues
- Cat Food
- Frame by Frame
- Lizard (Dawn Song only)
- Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part IV
- Easy Money
- Radical Action
- Level Five
- The Court of the Crimson King (with coda)
- 21st Century Schizoid Man (with Gavin Harrison drum solo)
I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.