Sunday, November 24, 2013

King Crimson - The Road to Red (Panegyric, 2013)

This has been a banner year for the legendary progressive rock band King Crimson. With the settling of guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp’s lawsuit against Universal he was able to announce that a new iteration of the band would be forming in 2014. Their re-issue campaign continues apace with 40th anniversary re-issues of the albums Red and USA. Then there is this epic present to the fans: The Road to Red features 20 CD’s of live music, chronicling the band’s 1973-1974 tour of the United States along with a DVD and two blu-ray DVD’s of concerts in high definition. This version of King Crimson was one of the most powerful, with Fripp on guitar and keyboards, John Wetton on bass and vocals, David Cross on violin and keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums and percussion. The booklet accompanying the set features Fripp’s tour diaries and recalls how tenuous the bonds were holding the group and the music together. The group would disband shortly after the tour ended and King Crimson would then go on hiatus until 1981. The music is uniformly excellent, focusing on the staples of the band’s repertoire at the time like the scalding rockers “Easy Money” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II” and dynamic pieces like ”Starless” and “Lament.” Each concert would contain one or two sections of pure improvisation used to link two songs together or to simply explore in their own right. It’s hard to pick concerts that stand above the normally high quality, but discs 2 and 3 from the Stanley Warner Theatre in Pittsburgh on April 29, 1974, is an amazingly torrid performance, incredibly powerful and deeply locked in together. Wetton has comparatively few vocals but he makes the most of them singing powerfully on the majestic “Starless” and the stomping Crimson classic “21st Century Schizoid Man.” There is an extended version in blu-ray that throws this concert into even more vivid relief. Few groups have gone out with such extraordinary thunder as this one. Their final concert recorded on a bootleg cassette from Central Park in New York City on July 1, 1974, distills all that make this group so important. Opening with their usual set closer “Schizoid Man” they throw all caution into the wind and channel an almost supernatural level of energy. Fripp’s guitar solo on this track is like Thor hurling thunderbolts from on high. They continue in epic fashion before ending their reign with superb performances of “Starless” and “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic Part II.” The official live album from this tour, USA, and the subsequent studio album, Red, are included in several different mixes and format, bringing this exhaustive collection to its logical conclusion. For fans of the band this is the mother lode, providing the ability to follow this excellent band in great detail as they change the landscape of rock music forever. Road to Red -

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