Music review: King Crimson, Playhouse, Edinburgh

King Crimson
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JUST as The Who didn’t die before they got old, so progressive rock was not vanquished by the punk hordes but prevailed to live side by side in the record collections of music fans of a certain age. Of the so-called prog dinosaurs, King Crimson remain a band apart – truly progressive in their shape-shifting and musical retooling of their catalogue.

King Crimson, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

Professorial bandleader Robert Fripp, ensconced in the far corner of the stage where he could keep an eye on proceedings, presided over his preferred current Crimson incarnation which places three hefty drumkits with percussive appendages in the safe hands of the Drumsons – namely, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey, who also doubled on keyboards, alongside former drummer Bill Rieflin – got that?

The stagecraft was as spartan as the music was sophisticated – bright lights trained unblinking on the band throughout two sets, running to almost three hours, with the ever-mutating sound spilling out of two relatively modest speaker stacks.

Rock power comes in many forms though – in this case, initially from the drummers, beating out a meaty tom-fare on four sticks apiece, instigating a spirit of playful competition and conversation between the three, which was duly supplemented by Tony Levin’s rumbling bass runs and frantic, fidgety saxophone from woodwind wizard Mel Collins before the storm broke and Fripp’s prim and precise guitar figures ushered in order and Discipline. Followed by its counterpart number Indiscipline, it highlighted Crimson’s creativity and eccentricity in equal measure, where no musical exploration is too far out.

Despite such heroic levels of indulgence, the slick sobriety of the band’s demeanour and the occasional tilt towards muso sterility, this was an unpredictable livewire display as the band unleashed potent blasts of jazz rock, the more conventionally proggy Epitaph and the contrasting MOR pop of Cadence and Cascade with soothing vocals from Jakko Jakszyk and pastoral flute trills from Collins, who showcased a further array of instrumentation on the whimsical Islands.

Fripp was even pleased to revisit a mini-suite from their divisive 1970 album Lizard, which he had previously declared “unlistenable”. Evidently not, as many audience members were sitting forward, intense and rapt, literally on the edge of their seats, receiving rarities as readily as the exultant sweep of The Court of the Crimson King or the encore choice Starless, a dynamic mix of precision and abandon delivered under infernal crimson lights.- FIONA SHEPHERD