massive King Crimson box, hot on the heels of the 15-disc, 40th Anniversary Series Larks' Tongues in Aspic: The Complete Recordings
(DGM Live, 2012), which brought new meaning to the word heavy
by collecting every known noteranging from low to hi-fiplayed by the then newly forged, five-piece edition of a group that, in addition to sole founding member Robert Fripp
, also featured violinist/keyboardist David Cross, bassist/vocalist John Wetton, drummer Bill Bruford
and, most significantly, percussionist and all-around madman x-factor Jamie Muir? Absolutely, and for fans of this era of Crimson, the 21-CD/1-DVD/2- Blu-Ray The Road to Red
is more than just a welcome addition, it's an exhilarating document of a progressive rock band reaching far beyond whatever purview such labeling might entail to achieve heights never reached beforeand, some would say, rarely (if ever) attained since.
Muir left Crimson following the quintet's first live performance of 1973February 10 at London's renowned Marquee Clubleaving Bruford much the wiser for it (and now assuming double duty as drummer and
percussionist). This leaner and much, much meaner four-piece Crim toured extensively in 1973/74, releasing the composite studio/live recording Starless and Bible Black
(DGM Live, 1974), which introduced a number of classic songs into the repertoire, including the fusionesque "The Great Deceiver," more rock-heavy "Lament," mellotron-heavy ballad "The Night Watch" and, most importantly perhaps, the 11-minute, whole-tone instrumental workout of "Fracture." But it was on the cusp of being unceremoniously (and unexpectedly) brought to a halt by Fripp that the groupreduced to a trio after Fripp's equally unanticipated firing of Crossrecorded a studio swan song that has gone on to become truly legendary, an album cited by progressive metal bands like Tool, Primus and Dream Theater as one of the most influential albums of all time: Red
(DGM Live, 1975).
High praise? Perhaps. But Red
managed to encapsulate all the things that defined mid-'70s Crimson: ear-crunching instrumentals like the title track; improvisation-heavy excursions into the outer reaches of rock, jazz and beyond on "Providence" (recorded live on the penultimate night of Crimson's final North American tour, included in the current box); dynamic, mellotron-driven ballads that morphed into thundering solo opportunities for members past and present via a lengthy middle section that milked the hell out of just a few choice notes ("Starless"); and two songs ("Fallen Angel," "One More Red Nightmare") that suggested a shifting direction for Crimson, with even stronger song form than on SABB
but delivered with the sameor, even, moremassive weight-bearing load of what was one of the loudest, most mind-blowingly powerful
power trios in the history of rock music.
When Red (40th Anniversary Series)
(DGM Live) was released in 2009, it sported a bunch of bonus material and a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Steven Wilsonwho is riding a career crest of his own right now with The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
(Kscope, 2013) and his ongoing world tourbut was the first (and so far only) time in the ongoing 40th Anniversary Series
that Fripp opted to go with the original stereo mix and 30th Anniversary Edition
remaster. The Road to Red
a replacement for that edition, though there is
considerable overlap; despite all of Red (40th Anniversary Series)
' audio material being replicated here, in addition to Fripp and Wilson's new stereo mix, it omits the video content from a March, 1974 French television performance included on the 40th Anniversary Series
' DVD. For the more casual Crimhead, a new two-CD edition of Red
is also being released, concurrent with The Road to Red
, that includes Wilson and Fripp's new stereo mix, along with material from Red (40th Anniversary Series)
two alternate Wilson takes/mixes from the original multi-track tapes of trio versions of "Red" and "Fallen Angel," as well as the 30th Anniversary
mix and full-length version of "Providence," edited down from 10:33 to 8:11 for Red
("A Voyage to the Centre of the Cosmos," an improvisation culled from the June 30, 1974 Providence, RI show is omitted)and a previously unreleased live mix of "Starless."
So, The Road to Red
may well include much of the audio material from Red (40th Anniversary Series)
, in addition to Wilson and Fripp's new stereo mix and the 2009 5.1 surround sound mix, this time replicated on one of the box set's two Blu-Ray discs (and offered here in DTS-HD Master Surround and LPCM 5.1 Surround). But the box really serves as an extension/expansion of USA
(DGM Live), the 1975 live album culled largely from the June 28, 1974 Asbury Park performance with the exception of "21st Century Schizoid Man," taken from Crimson's penultimate live performance in Providence, RI, two days laterthat was to be the group's final release until reforming, with a different lineup and considerably different artistic intent, for Discipline40th Anniversary Series
form in 2011.
Along with the Road to Red
box, a 40th Anniversary Series
edition of USA
is also being released in the usual CD/DVD format, though Wilson has nothing to do with it. The DVD does not have a surround sound mix of the album, Fripp having decided that the live power of the quartet is best experienced in stereo; instead, it includes high resolution versions of the three different mixes. First, the expanded 30th Anniversary Edition
mix, which includes violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson
's post-production overdubs on "Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part II," "Lament," and "21st Century Schizoid Man," originally cited as necessary due to technical problems with the tapes apparently rendering Cross' parts inaudible. Apparently
, because Ronan Chris Murphy's new stereo mix of the entire Asbury Park performancefirst issued in 2005 as a download from DGM Live and the following year in hard media form as the second of The Collectable King Crimson Volume One
's two CDs, released by DGM Livemanages to restores Cross' performances to the three tunes originally overdubbed by Jobson. USA (40th Anniversary Series)
also includes a brand new stereo mix of the Asbury Park show by Fripp, Tony Arnold and David Singleton that both rounds out the three high res versions included on the DVD and
is used as the "definitive" mix on the CD. All three versions eliminate the original vinyl version of USA
's curious fadeout on "Easy Money," which chopped the last minute of a take that, once it opened up into solo space, never actually returned to form for its closing verse. While not available on USA (40th Anniversary Series)
, The Road to Red
also includes, on one of the Blu-Ray discs, the original 30th Anniversary Edition
mix/master of USA
, as well as a transfer from the album's original UK vinyl issue.
And so, taken in the context of USA
and how the final US tour was, indeed, the road to Red
even though, excluding the edited version of the "Providence" improvisation, the only song Crimson was performing from what would become its final studio recording was the album-closing "Starless"what does the box set offer? 16 of the final 1974 US tour's 38 live shows, beginning with April 28 in Columbus, Ohio and concluding with the group's legendary final show in New York City's Central Park on July 1 of the same year. It was a gig that, even if the group didn't know it at the time, was as strong a final bow as it could ever have delivered, even causing the by-then fed-up-with-the-road Fripp to write in his diary, "Nearly wept at one point, knowing this was the last time I'd be working with DC [David Cross, Fripp having already decided that he'd be firing the violinist once the tour was over]," while enthusing about the show, calling it "the first gig since Crimso '69 where the bottom of my spine registered 'out of this world' to the same degree."
High praise, indeed, from a guitarist who, since dissolving that incarnation of Crimson, has brought it back to life four more times, with ongoing rumors of a totally unexpected new edition of Crimson recently confirmed at DGM Live
. In Sid Smith's as-ever informative liner notes, Fripp is quoted as saying:
"The point is a band comes together when it has music to play. When it's played that music it moves on. It might move on in the same place or not. It has to do with the nature of the creative current and creative work. As soon as you say 'look, this really works. Let's keep doing it' you have a successful professional undertaking which is entirely honorable but the creative necessity for the band may not be there. There are different approaches for that; one is to exist for a period of time and say when the beast of Crim returns then we shall come together to serve that beast. That's one approach. Crimson was a very rare animal in that it acted in a world mediated by commerce but not limited by the world."
As Fripp continues to spearhead his 40th Anniversary Editions
of the King Crimson catalogue, after The Road to Red
's 20 CDs of live performances, the 21st CD, which includes Wilson and Fripp's new stereo remix of Red
, provides an opportunity to compare and contrast with the 30th Anniversary
Ultimately, how the two mixes measure up is really a matter of personal preference. As has been his approach all alongone that has both supporters and detractorsWilson's new mix of Red
is considerably cleaner, its more transparent layers and a broader stereo image still remaining reverent to the overall instrumental positioning of the original mix. The result is a remix that, in its pursuit of translucence, may not be quite as ballsy as the original, but possesses its own charms, especially on the introduction to "Fallen Angel," where the more clearly articulated layers make it an almost new experience. Bruford's drums are more equally balanced on "One More Red Nightmare," while on "Starless," with Fripp's buildup of a spartan single-note motif mirroring each chord of what is, at its core, a dark, brooding minor- keyed blues, Bruford's percussive layers and Wetton's increasingly thunderous bass assume greater dynamics and, ultimately, greater power.
But the meat of The Road to Red
is the live music presented on 20 CDs, along with, in addition to the same high res versions of USA
and the Asbury Park show, a Blu-Ray disc with high res versions of four additional shows, including Pittsburgh, PA, April 29; University Park, PA, June 29; Toronto, Canada, June 24; and Providence, RI, June 30 (creating yet another opportunity to hear Cross on "21st Century Schizoid Man," rather than Eddie Jobson's replacement overdubs ultimately used on USA
). There are four shows that, in addition to the new Fripp/Arnold/Singleton remix of Asbury Park, NJ, June 28, have never seen the light of day until now: Houston, TX, June 5; Grand Rapids, MI, June 23; Denver, CO, June 16; and El Paso, TX, June 8. There are shows that were issued, in part, in the massively successful The Great Deceiver
(DGM Live) boxreleased in 1992, the first indicator that there was significant potential in releasing archival Crimson live recordingsbut are seeing complete release here for the first time: Pittsburgh, PA, April 29; Toronto, Canada, June 24; and University Park, PA, June 29; as well as one showProvidence, RI, June 30 that was included, in its entirety, on The Great Deceiver
A number of shows have been previously available in download form only, and which are seeing hard media release here for the first time. Some of these shows are incomplete, and some have incomplete versions of songs; of the shows that are taken from soundboard recordings, they were recorded to cassette tape and there were times when the sound engineer either forgot to turn on the recorder at the start of the show, or neglected to flip the tape when necessary. In order to present both songs and concerts as close to complete as possible, Fripp and the DGM team sourced audience bootleg recordings where possible, pasting in missing sections and doing a remarkable job at cleaning up the source recording so well that, at times, it's hard to tell that it's even been done. In all cases, for full disclosure, they are notated in the 37-page booklet that is included in the box along with full size replicas of both Red
covers and assorted other historical artifacts.
It's also important to remember, when looking at the set listsand even the length of complete showsthat, back in the day, if Crimson was sharing the bill with one or more other bands, where it was on the bill dictated how long its sets would be ranging from a full 95 minutes that allowed the group to play a complete set, to considerably abbreviated 45-minute shows where the set list had to be constructed to, in half the time of a full set, demonstrate the total breadth of Crimson's music. What's wonderful to see here is that even in the abbreviated shows, the improvisational side of the group was not dropped; it was Crimson's adherence to the use of unfettered free playoften (but not always) used to segue either out of a song or into anotherthat so defined it as a force with which to be reckoned in the rock world, even alongside other groups considered to be peers, like Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. While these groups did, indeed, include plenty of solo segments for their members, they invariably did so within defined structural constructs. Only Crimson threw caution to the wind and let the music go completely where it may, as on the Grand Rapids, MI show on June 23 where, at the end of an incomplete version of "Easy Money," a single, sustained note from Fripp leads into a four-minute improvisation that gradually morphs from the guitarist's silky phrases into a three chord-driven collective example of progressive music without a safety net.
Elsewhere, there's plenty of impressive soloing over form. On the June 5 Houston, TX show, Fripp's brief solo in the middle of the mellotron-drenched "Exiles" represents the guitarist at his most focused and lyrical, while Bruford's playing throughout this 48-minute set is some of his most imaginative and powerful, in particular throughout the through-composed complexity of "Fracture," where it's clear just how much he gained from his few short months working with Jamie Muir, when this Crimson incarnation first came together. From wood blocks and metal sheets to vibraphone and his massively powerful kit work during its final three minutes, Bruford's evolution, not just as a drummer but as a percussionist
is laid out for all to hear during the course of this box set's seventeen-plus hours of music. While Wetton originally seemed to be, if not exactly a weak link (how could anyone sounding this huge
be considered weak?) then, at least, a more limited player linguistically, it's also clear, in the time between Larks Tongues in Aspic
and these final few months of touring, that Wetton had come a long way as a bassiststill not, perhaps, possessing the same breadth of vernacular as Fripp and Cross, but certainly much farther along that same road.
While Fripp would ultimately dismiss Cross, listening to the violinist/keyboardist across these 16 shows makes it hard to understand why, in retrospect. Yes, there were technical issues getting Cross heardand for Cross to hear himself onstage with this intensely loud group, something which clearly impacted his intonation at times (if only in-ear monitors existed back then). But hearing his solo on "Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II" from the Asbury Park show used for the restored USA
, It's difficult to appreciate Fripp's decision, as Cross proved capable of playing outside the harmonic box just as easily as he was able to wax melodic on "Exiles" and burn with relentless intensity on "The Great Deceiver." He was also a player unafraid of taking risks; on "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II" during the Fort Worth, TX show, rather than his characteristically searing violin solo he attacks his heavily distorted electric piano with Cecil Taylor
-like freedom, all jagged block chords and angular phrases.
If there's any weakness at all in the boxand it's a relatively minor oneit's Wetton's vocals. On the higher octane numbers he's almost always stretching for those high notes, and more often than not, not quite making them; even on the gentler, more balladic songs like "Exiles" and "The Night Watch," he seems unable to sing more softly, almost always belting the words out. To be fair, however, the same monitor issues that plagued Cross must have challenged Wetton to sing in tuneand with greater subtlety and nuancewhen he was, more often than not, unable to hear himself amidst the maelstrom of sound coming from the back line behind him.
The rigors of the road were many, indeed, but Fripp clearly tried to maintain a sense of levity throughout, despite having to endure the drunk and/or stoned screaming that, often coming during the quietest moments, must have proven a considerable disruption. Throughout the box there are brief but revealing announcements from Fripp, including one bit of stage banter at the end of the box's opening show in Columbus, OH on April 28amusing, but also indicative of problems where Fripp tells the audience:
"Good evening hippies; ladies and gentlemen, we're conducting a survey of our audiences to see, in fact, if you like us or not." After thunderous applause, Bruford blows a whistlehardand Fripp continues, "Ladies and gentlemen, a most
generous assessment; thank you very much, indeed, that's fabulous, it really is superb. And now if I may explain, we're having a little...a moment sir, curb your enthusiasm [to a screaming member of the crowd]...we're having just a little difficulty with our violin over here; I'll explain the reason, if I may. It was built by a celebrated English violin maker from Shephard's Bush, Mister Legs Quigley...[an audience member screams out]...yes, you know Legs Quigley? Legs plays in a very famous British rock band, Emerson, Legs and Palmer, and if you will just bear with us for a moment we will do what we can to improve the flaccid tone and wavering intonation of our violin player here, thank you."
Comedic? Yes, but an indication that all was not well and that Fripp may already have been considering a change. Elsewhere, Fripp banters, tongue perhaps only partly in cheek, that "You will have realized this is all part of the drive to commercialism; in other words, this is an appeal. Ladies and gentlemen: please buy our records. Please
. May I, on behalf of the band, initiate a campaign, which I'm sure will capture the hearts of millions: ladies and gentlemen, make King Crimson a top 10 band. [responding to near-primal screams from the audience] Thank you gentlemen, for those kind suggestions..."
But critical mass occurs in Toronto, on June 24, after a particularly wonderful improvisationno doubt later named for what was about to happen ("Improv: Clueless and Slightly Slack")where, moving from some particularly jagged free play to a thundering bass and drum-driven groove with Fripp on electric piano and Cross on violin, the group gradually dissolves, leaving Cross to deliver an oriental-tinged, pentatonic-based a cappella
solo. As Fripp gradually enters on guitar, with some lovely, pastoral chords and the piece turns quieter still, at the quietest possible moment it's possible to hear people in the audience yelling out, but one man in particular...so much so that the group stops playing entirely. While the majority of the audience clearly thinks that this is the end of the piece and responds with applause, Fripp then takes to the microphone:
"Ladies and gentlemen, there was just a point of dispute between Bill and myself. I said, 'Shall I be rude to that guy?' And Bill said 'No.' And I said 'I've got to.' [to which Fripp is met with a large round of applause]. Sir, if you can't keep your mouth shut at a moment like that, you're an insensitive crint," after which the group launches into a particularly vicious "Easy Money," as if to blast the offender(s) into submission.
That it was becoming increasingly difficult to play in front of audiences that invariably had a handful of people treating the group with such disrespect that it actually impacted its ability to make music surely had to be part of Fripp's ultimate decision to fold the group after the tour. Throughout the box there are instances of audience members screaming out (the only thing missing is someone shouting "Free Bird"!!!
)even on recordings made from the soundboardindicating just how
loud people were. Sadly, an unfortunate byproduct of The Road to Red
's marvelous music is the spotlight it shines on problems that artists continue to face when it comes to audiences where some choose to ignore even a modicum of respect. It's a certainty that Fripp chose to leave this clip in on purpose; if its inclusion gives even a few people cause for pause, then it's a win for everybodynot just the band, but for audience members who are there to hear the music, not some inebriated or otherwise mind-altered "fans" who think it's OK to disrupt the proceedings with their mindless rants.
But audience difficulties aside, The Road to Red
is a treasure trove of a boxsome of it immediately clear, some of it only revealed on repeated listens. For those who have some of these shows as downloads from DGM Live, or own The Great Deceiver
(or both), beyond the previously unreleased material, all
the music included has been meticulously remastered and sounds better than ever. Even the final show in Central Parksourced from an audience recording because, for some reason, a soundboard recording was not made that nightsounds surprisingly good, with clarity between the instruments and the only thing giving it away being the audience noise around the taper. Opening, uncharacteristically, with "21st Century Schizoid Man" (usually, by this time, the encore), Fripp delivers one of his fiercest solos of the boxone challenged in intensity only during his solo on the same song at the Fort Worth show, where an unrelentingly rapid- strummed feature builds to a climax rarely heard since Fripp's similar approach on "Sailor's Tale," from Islands
(DGM Live, 1971).
There were later Crimson incarnations with Fripp's move to the twin-guitar version in the 1980s that began with Discipline
and, with numerous multi- year breaks, continued straight through to the new millennium with various groupings/regroupings, leading to its most recent studio recording, 2003's The Power to Believe
(Sanctuary). There was even the twin-drum quintet that did a brief tour in 2008 but, other than being documented on the download-only Park West, Chicago, Illinois August 7, 2008
(DGM Live, 2008), went unrecorded and would perform no new music before Fripp once again called it quitsthis time, it seemed, for good.
All these subsequent versions had their specific charms, but the 1973-74 quartet is the incarnation held, overall, in the highest esteem by most Crimheads. While as recently as six months ago Fripp was being absolutely clear that Crimson was over, it has now been confirmed that "King Crimson is in motion. This is a very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers."
What this new version of Crimson will sound like is anybody's guessas is what will be in the repertoire. But in the meantime, with reissues like USA (40th Anniversary Series)
and, for the more committed Crimhead, The Road to Red
, there is more than enough stellar music to keep fans happy until the new version is unveiled. Like the big boxes that have come beforethe six-disc In the Court of the Crimson King (40th Anniversary Box)
(DGM Live, 2009) and 15-disc Larks' Tongues in Aspic: The Complete Recordings
The Road to Red
is most definitely not for the casual Crimson fan.
For those who don't understand the value of hearing 14 versions of "Easy Money," 15 versions of "Fracture," 16 versions of "Starless"each one demonstrating just how unfettered this group was, even in the context of structured songsor the 27 free improvisations that shine a massive light on a group that achieved true transcendence on its best nights and even on its average nights trumped many of its peers' best, The Road to Red
may not be for them.
But for those who truly value a collective group of musicians that went out, each and every night, with the intention of doing more than simply replicating its studio recordingsinstead, using them as mere starting points for something that was, no doubt, as much a surprise to the group as it was to its audienceThe Road to Red
is an absolutely exhilarating lesson in what's possible with a group this masterful and unafraid of risk. If The Great Deceiver
was previously considered the litmus test against which all subsequent live progressive rock recordings were measured, The Road to Red
easily trumps it, making it the absolutely best archival King Crimson release to date.
Personnel: Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron, keyboards; John Wetton: bass, vocals; William Bruford:
percussives; David Cross: violin (CD1-21, all DVD except USA, all Blu-Ray
except USA), mellotron (CD1-20, all DVD except USA and
Red, all Blu-Ray except USA and Red), keyboards
(CD1-20, all DVD except USA and Red, all Blu-Ray except
USA and Red); Mel Collins: soprano saxophone (CD21, DVD
Red only, Blu-Ray Red only); Ian McDonald: alto saxophone
(CD21, DVD Red only, Blu-Ray Red only); Robin Miller: oboe
(CD21, DVD Red only, Blu-Ray Red only); Marc Charig: cornet
(CD21, DVD Red only, Blu-Ray Red only); Eddie Jobson: violin
(DVD USA only #2, #7, Blu-Ray USA only, #2, #7), keyboards
(DVD USA only #3, Blu-Ray USA only, #3).