Crimson ProjeKct Warehouse Live July 8, 2012
Let's get one thing straight from the very beginning: King Crimson, by any other name, is still King Crimson. This requires an understanding of the nature of the band, which fans have come to learn over the years. King Crimson is a living, breathing entity with no specifically static lineup and many, many off-shoots called ProjeKcts.
So when I tell people who I saw at Warehouse Live on Sunday night, I will automatically say King Crimson, albeit with a tiny asterisk beside the name.
That being said, this isn't your granddaddy's King Crimson. It's actually closer to your daddy's King Crimson. The erstwhile founder and only continuous member, guitarist Robert Fripp, is off in England somewhere enjoying retirement, and you won't find Greg Lake making any appearances.
What you will find are two members of the third "classic" version of King Crimson, the New Wave-inflected 1980s version, which featured Adrian Belew on vocals and guitar and Tony Levin on Chapman stick and bass. If you are unfamiliar with their names, check the liner notes of your Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Frank Zappa records, to name just a few.
Rounding out the line-up are Pat Mastelotto on drums, a 1990s era member of King Crimson from their "dual drummers" period, Adrian Belew Power Trio members Tobias Ralph on another set of drums and Julie Slick on another bass, and Markus Reuter of Tony Levin's band Stick Men on touch guitars.
If that sounds excessive, it's because the production of King Crimson's music was often so layered and nuanced as to require all these people just to play their intricate polyrhythms and multi-tracking.
The show started out with trios first, before launching into the full-on King Crimson revival. Levin's Stick Men kicked things off with an extraordinary showing of the versatility and capability of the relatively underappreciated instruments of the Chapman stick and touch guitar. Then a firey set from Adrian Belew's Power Trio took things over, showcasing some of the best improvisational jazz jams from his solo career.
However, to remind you what you came for, Belew introduced a King Crimson song, an '80s semi-instrumental known as "Neurotica." It was an unexpected choice, but was easily the greatest showcase of the Power Trio's combined talents in their set. Slick in particular showed off some of the fastest basswork I've ever seen, making her fingers move like lightning.
Belew announced a 15-minute break before they would come back from the Crimson set. This is where is must be noted the atmosphere of the show. The "15-minute break" was by no means a joke. This was a band of Baby Boomers playing for an audience of Baby Boomers.
The players and the audience each proved that Baby Boomers can still rock well into their second middle age, but the show's vibe was not one of an uncontrollable rock and roll explosion. It was a finely-tuned, rigidly punctual machine.
Each band started at the exact time promised, and Crimson finished promptly at 11 p.m. The jams, though seemingly improvisational, were in fact so well studied as to be flawless virtuoso concert performances.
This is also the only time I've seen the Warehouse Ballroom with rows of folding chairs laid out for the audience. Crimson knows their audience because they are their audience, but don't let that fool you. They may not go bonkers onstage, they may not pull Axl Rose delays, but they're not afraid to get loud.
After the short break, Crimson ProjeKct dutifully took the stage, but in a one-by-one manner. They began their set as another trio, featuring the three "official" King Crimson members (Belew, Levin, and Mastelotto) tearing through "Elephant Talk," their classic hit from their 1981 album Discipline. Then Ralph and Reuter joined them onstage for a rousing performance of the '90's deep-cut instrumentals "B'Boom" and "THRAK," each from the THRAK album. Slick finally took her place on stage during "THRAK."
The obvious question at this point though is whether this Crimson offshoot lives up to and honors the Crimson name? The answer is yes. Even though the members of the band are getting up in years and almost stuffily punctual, there is nothing perfunctory about what they are doing.
This ProjeKct is made up of masterful instrumentalists, both new and old, and their performances, while perhaps somewhat subdued at times, were picture perfect recreations of the classic Crimson sound.
As for honoring the name? If their being the real deal Crimson is perhaps debatable, they're the best damn tribute act in the world in that respect. More than anything though, this whole project is for the fans.
That was clearly on display the entire night. The musicians obviously wanted to pay tribute to King Crimson's back catalogue, but they also wanted to give fans a chance to hear these songs again for perhaps the last time, Fripp or no Fripp.
That's why they pulled out deep cuts like "Dinosaur" (also from THRAK) as well as verified fan favorites like "Frame By Frame" (from Discipline) and even the title track of 1974's Red (the only song from an earlier Crimson era played, accompanied with a joke from Belew that it was a song "we didn't write").
It's also why they stayed behind after the show to talk with the fans and sign things and why altogether the members of the bands, acting as the openers and the main acts, were onstage a collective three hours. It was a show about giving back to the most loyal supporters of this lineup of King Crimson over the years and a fan's delight.
It was also, sadly, potentially the last chance, so those that missed out really missed out.
Personal Bias: I always hoped to get to see this music played live by the original musicians. I'm happy enough with this, since I don't foresee Fripp ever getting on the road again and since I really never thought any version of Crimson would be an active touring band again.
The Crowd: Average age range was 45-60 and wearing casual dresswear, so about what you would expect from a classic rock band that a) never had any hits and b) was always essentially a "nerdy" band for musicians. There were also some young guys sprinkled throughout, wearing progressive metal t-shirts and long unwashed hair.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "I saw them play on the THRAK tour. They came on three hours late, but they were amazing," (At least they don't make us wait anymore!)
Random Notebook Dump: Chairs in Warehouse Live? Can we install these for every show (or at least for ones with openers not worth subjecting our feet and backs to standing through)?