King Crimson
March 29th, 2003 - The Wiltern Theater, LA
March 30th, 2003 - Grove Theater, Anaheim
California, USA

By Cary Coatney & Patrick McAfee


The Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles
By Cary Coatney

Rather than sitting home getting visually mauled by the pounding media coverage of Gulf War 2, I ventured outside into the real world to be sonically discharged by Trey Gunn's fretless Warr guitar at King Crimson's only Southern California appearance at the Los Angeles Wiltern Theatre. And all it took was a short hop and a skip via a bus and subway ride from the San Fernando Valley to be bathed in Fripptronic forgetfulness for approximately two hours. The band were on tour in support of their month long newest release: The Power to Believe. The cover to the album lends itself to be construed as anti-war propaganda as it is adorned by two gas mask wearing soldiers positioned outside a hospital window while a nurse inside checks the vital signs of a infant sprawled out on a operating table as a regiment of troops marches outside. I'm sure it strictly wasn't intentional on artist P.J. Cook's part, nor the band's decision to release the album two weeks before the madness of King George W II fully commenced, but nevertheless, it's timing is strangly ominious.

Upon arriving at the majestic Wiltern, I go through the regular routine of picking out souvenir goodies such as t-shirts and program books that are offered at the usual extortionate prices. This year's offering was a unexpected spin on the tour book trend, being that a small twenty page booklet chockful of Robert Fripp's scintillating witticisms is accompanied with a CD chronicling excerpted interviews and press conferences (One reporter asks: Would you be willing to appear on the Howard Stern show? Fripp's reply: I don't think my buns are firm enough.) sprinkled with never before heard rarities from the Power to Believe sessions all neatly packaged in a DVD container- all for the casual plundering of a hefty $40.00, just a little less than what I paid to get in the show.

After grabbing some wine from the bar, ushers were kindly waiting to escort me to my seat in the 'K' row (a bit ironic, isn't it?), roughly thirteen rows from the orchestra pit- so the seat wasn't too shabby considering what I paid for the ticket. While being accompanied- I couldn't help notice that Robert Fripp was already on the stage setting off some ambient Roland Guitar synth-scudded soundscapes while all patrons were making themselves comfortable.

After Fripp sounded his last sustained note, there was a slight pause and then the rest of the members of the band joined on stage to launch into two opening numbers from 2000's Construkction of Light album most notably that album's opening track; Prozac Blues, which certainly felicitated the audience's response.

Most of the selections this evening were culled from the last two releases, placing emphasis on the new Power to Believe release- but a few gems from 1995's Thrak managed to slip through the repertoire crack.

I couldn't help but notice that Robert Fripp was constantly bathed in a luminous blue stagelight- I thought for a second that I made a wrong turn at the Las Vegas Luxor Hotel and was watching the Blue Man Group for the Geritol generation by mistake as Fripp hardly ever gets up from his stool when surrounded by rackmounted forts of electronic doodads.

What piqued my curiosity was Trey Gunn and this Warr guitar device that he is credited for playing. I found out on a website that the instrument was invented and named after a fireman out in California. It has 8 or 12 strings: mainly with 6 strings of the right hand part you play the melody and with the other 6 strings of the left hand part you play the bass line. When playing this instrument, you often use a tapping technique quite similar to what Tony Levin and others do with a Chapman stick. You can mute strings while playing with two hands, and muting pads or mittens are usually provided. You can add synthesizer effects and operate it on a battery pack through the control panels on the back of the body. You can do a lot of crazy stuff with the frets- but hey, what do I know? I associate more with keyboard players anyway.

What really diverted my attention was Pat Mastelotto's fluid drumming ( I mean, jeez what time signature does this guy operate on? ) especially in this evening's rendition of Level Five during the crack of the cymbals section as he reached with his right hand to do these outrageous sneak attacks on toms, snares, and other electronic percussion doo hickeys. The other not too happy with what you have to be happy with diversion was these giant windsockets that suddenly inflated across the stage during One Time. Now, I don't ever recall if the band signed any endorsement deals with Trojan or Lifestyles condoms or not, but there they were, foreboding and hovering menacingly throughout the remainder of the show.

And of course what is a King Crimson show without a few strict enforcement of rules? You can't just get by without the no- photography rule. I know that a friend of mine back in the land of Oz learned of this the hard way at a past King Crimson show that this is indeed no laughing matter when he brought the show to a complete stop by snapping some personal glossies. But now in the twenty-first century, dear old Uncle Bobby has revised these rules with a new unconscionable twist: the no going to the bathroom during performance rule. If you're feeling a little rush of the bladder floodgates coming on after a heavy consumption of Harp Lager, then my advice to you is to stand still and act like a dike. I, myself learned of this the hard way without seeing the signs posted on each aisle door telling everyone that there will be absolutely no flash cameras allowed and no ins or outs during a song's performance. I felt a sudden need to use the restroom in the middle of Power to Believe II, so I wouldn't be stuck in a long winding queue at the conclusion of the show. It winded up costing me the performance of my favorite track off the new album, Dangerous Curves. When the usher refused to open the door for me and some other patrons, the situation further exacerbated when Dangerous Curves segued into Lark's Tongues in Aspic Part 4 as he still refused to open the door for us! We have to convince him that it was a new song they were starting, but I think it was a clever comment from another hardcore fan was the one that broke the ice; 'Hey, I didn't pay $60.00 just to sit out in the hall!'

Well, at least we got two encores for our inconvience and it was at this point that the audience really began to cut loose after sitting adroitly for so long (there were a scattered few who sparked up and passed around their socks, telling by the aroma in the air, but unfortunely none of it made it my way) when they launched into Dinosaur. Even a male audience member stood up on his chair and loudly proclaimed his undying love for Robert Fripp that sort of got a chuckle from Adrian Belew. The second encore was one of my all time favorites of the title track from 1975's Red.

In conclusion, I felt the musicanship was tighter than ever- most than some bits and pieces registered highly on the 'wow' meter, but I had a sense that this elitist foray into what Fripp commonly refers to as 'nuevo metal' is too much pedestrian for my taste. To me, it somewhat alienates any connection to the older material- something that Fripp obviously is content with. I realize that this is a different line up with a different background ( I mean, look, Pat Mastelotto ex-drummer of Mr. Mister? who would have thunk?) but with Belew still in activation, you would think Fripp would dug a few pieces out of the 81-84 trio of albums to at least satisfy some die-hards. (harking back to my high school days) I remember hearing that Belew and Fripp were considering reviving Easy Money for an encore on this tour, but I guess it didn't come to fruition.


Grove Theater, Anaheim
by Patrick McAfee

The Grove Theater is one of the more interesting places in Southern California to see a rock concert. I have seen several shows there and it's dinner theater setting has never failed in creating an odd experience. It is a relatively nice place, with OK sound, but the seating consists of row after row of picnic table like seating. When looking straight ahead you will gaze upon the person sitting directly across from you. Depending on which side of the table you are sitting on, you need to crane your head either to the left or right to see the stage. Regardless of the quality of the show, your night will probably end with a very sore neck.
Every artist that I have seen there has taken the time to poke fun at the setting and on this night, singer-guitarist Adrian Belew proved no exception. After the band completed the opening song, Belew welcomed the crowd to "Sunday night bingo" and called out "B-5".

I hadn't seen King Crimson since the tour for Thrak so I was very anxious to see how the band performed minus Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. Though these two amazing talents were missed, the current incarnation of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn & Pat Mastelotto more than held their own. I was also excited about this tour as I liked their latest release, 'The Power to Believe', much more than the prior CD, The ConstrucKtion of Light. Though, that album was not without it's charms as well.

Immediately after entering the stage, Adrain Belew started the show with the accappella opening of The Power to Believe before the band ripped into an excellent version of Level Five, also from the latest CD. Throughout the evening, the band defied the theory that advancing age mellows an individual. These guys seriously kicked ass all night long. They mainly focused on material from the last two albums which were definitely harder edged. In fact, if I had one small gripe about the evening, it was that all but three songs performed (two from Thrak and Deception of the Thrush) were from these last two releases. I thought they would have at least dabbled in the 80's era of the band a bit. All in all though, it didn't make a big difference as it still was a very entertaining show.

The new CD was performed almost in it's entirety, minus just a few tracks. The highlights definitely included the previously mentioned Level Five as well as excellent renditions of Elektrik, Dangerous Curves & Eyes Wide Open, just to name a few. Moving on to material from The Construcktion of Light that was performed, I was particularly impressed by Prozak Blues. If only because I don't care much for the recorded version of the song. The live version on this night was fantastic though. It could be due to the fact that Belew sang it in his own voice rather than using the annoying vocal tricks that the album version features The concert also featured excellent versions of Vroom and Dinosaur from Thrak.

The band was very tight and all played superbly. It is every bit as interesting to watch this band's technical ability as it is to listen to their music. It was also fun that Robert Fripp could actually be seen on this tour and not hidden in darkness towards the back of the stage. Though he was bathed in dark purple lights, he was in plain view on the right hand side of the stage. Some of his solos were particularly blistering on this evening. His solo on Facts of Life from the new CD was absolutely awe inspiring to say the least.

Aside from the music, Mr. Fripp also provided what will probably go down as the most memorable part of the evening. As he walked to the microphone to thank the tour crew before the final song, he noticed a person in the audience preparing to take a picture. Anyone in the theater who was unaware of Fripp's adversity to cameras at Crimson shows, soon found out just how serious he is about it. He immediately warned the individual to put the camera away or "he would place it in a spot in which the sun never ventures" The person then flashed Fripp a peace sign that did no good. Fripp pointed at the person and said "you can flash the peace sign at me, but I ask you to turn it back at yourself". At this point, he waved his pointed finger towards the man and stated "I assure you that this finger IS judgmental" and ended with " be aware that we do have a confiscation policy". Though there was scattered laughter in the hall, I think everyone in attendance knew that Robert wasn't joking around. Finally, he moved on to thanking the crew and the band lashed into the final song of the evening, Vrooom.

All in all, a very entertaining concert. The band proved once again why they are and continue to be one of the freshest and most enduring of all progressive rock acts. Lastly, it is a shame though that in Southern California, a band like King Crimson can't sell out a 1600 seat theater. Though the first three sections were pretty full, the back of the hall was almost completely empty. A definite testament to the fading rock scene in this town. Quite a shame, all things considered. Also, to all the fans that feel the need to yell out things like "Bruford!!!!" or "Epitaph!!!!" during quite sections of songs, all I can say is "get a life!!!!". This is an occurrence at every Crimson show that I have ever attended and it is quite sad. Especially now considering that Bill Bruford no longer performs with the band. Plus, it must make Michael Giles feel pretty left out. :) Seriously though, an absolutely great show. I hope the band comes back to the States very soon. If they do, I recommend that all fans attend. King Crimson can still stand it's own with any other band out there.

Setlist:

The Construkction Of Light
Prozakc Blues
Elektrik
Eyes Wide Open
Facts Of Life
The Power To Believe I
Level Five
The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum
Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With
The Power To Believe II
Dangerous Curves
Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part 4

The Deception Of The Thrush
Dinosaur

Red (LA)
VROOOM (Anaheim)

 

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2003 DPRP