If, as Robert Fripp likes to say, music is our friend, then King Crimson’s music is the kind of friend who bashes you over the head, punches you in the face and stomps on your feet before walking away and leaving you wanting more.
The seven-piece Crimson took the stage as night fell over a two-thirds-full Rose Music Center near Dayton, Ohio, Sept. 2 and started the bashing with “Drumzilla.” As Mel Collins (woodwinds), Tony Levin (bass, Chapman Stick), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, vocals) and one-man brain trust Fripp (guitar, keyboards) looked over from on-high riser, drummers Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison got to work.
Each welded four sticks – two per hand – and from their stage-front positions, made clear Crimson ’21 was going to be noisy. It was a refrain revisited often during the mammoth, two-hour performance whether during “Drumzilla,” the back portion of “The Court of the Crimson King” or on “Indiscipline,” when the trio passed rolls, fills and other percussive trickery across their kits as if they’d merged into one under Levin’s throbbing Chapman.
Fifteen months after the pandemic-delayed concert was originally scheduled, the Kings were all business. No banter. Playing under white lights that turned Crimson only during the set-closing “Starless” with the back four in white shirts and black ties and the drummers in black.
And music, as Frank Zappa said, is the best.
It started two minutes before 7 p.m. when the Zappa Band – singer/guitarist Ray White, singer/keyboardist/saxophonist Robert Martin, bassist Scott Thunes, guitarist/keyboardist Mike Keneally, guitarist Jamie Kime and drummer Joe Travers – took the stage for 50 minutes of Frank.
Like Fripp’s compositions, Zappa’s are open-ended and ripe for interpretation. This infused tracks such as “Zomby Woof,” “Peaches en Regalia,” “What’s New in Baltimore?,” “Florentine Pogen,” “Andy” and others with more the feeling of a symphony playing Beethoven than a rock band playing covers.
And though the guitar work was somewhat lacking, White and Martin’s familiar vocals lent an extra air of credibility, leading to a rare opening-act standing ovation.
Crimson earned several from a hard-listening audience that erupted during tricky passages in “Epitaph” and “Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part IV” and was mostly quiet as Jakszyk sung a tender “Islands” accompanied by Fripp and Stacey’s keys and during Levin’s solo spot, “Tony’s Cadenza.”
Exactly 120 minutes after they began, King Crimson wrapped the staggering (and prescient) hard rock of “21st Century Schizoid Man” and, after soaking in the applause and taking some photos of the audience, they were gone.
But they left a lot of battered – and happily so – friends in their wake.