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Concert Reviews:
King Crimson throws a "party" for the head, and ears, in Ann Arbor

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2017

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ANN ARBOR -- After earnestly beseeching fans at the Michigan Theater to keep their "devices" pocketed before King Crimson's show on Wednesday night, Nov. 22, the recorded voice declared "Let's have a party!"

Not a word usually associated with this particular band.

Over 49 years, King Crimson's music has been for the head rather than the feet, intricate constructs of challenging, inventive and barrier-free music, suite-like compositions that are not for the faint of heart. And that was certainly the case on Wednesday as the group powered through a three-hour (including intermission) 23-song exposition in one of its most ambitious formats yet -- one that gave new meaning to the phrase "give the drummer some."

It was drummers, in this case, with three complete kits set up at the front of the stage for Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto and Bill Rieflin, who also played keyboards. With the other five musicians of what King of Crimson Robert Fripp has dubbed a "double quartet" on a riser behind them, the trio was the star of the show, weaving in and out of each other, very seldom playing in unison but almost always presenting a model of collaboration rather than collision. It was a marvel to both watch and hear, the musical equivalent of a high-wire trapeze act.

And while one was tempted to shout-out "Free Bird!" it seemed far to brainy an outfit, and an audience, to make the joke work.

Atop the percussion army, Crimson played a career-spanning show of peaks and more peaks for fans of progressive rock. Interestingly the troupe reached well back to play nearly all of its 1969 debut album, "In The Court Of The Crimson King," letting Jako Jaksyzk -- who Fripp also allowed to do some heavy lifting on guitar -- stretch his voice on songs such as "Epitaph," "Moonchild" and the title track. And epics such as "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" (parts one and two, played separately), "Starless and Bible Black" and a powerhouse pairing of "Radical Action II" and "Level Five" -- were nothing less than breathtaking displays of tightly performed sonic daring-do.

The encore, "21st Century Schizoid Man," was a gleeful and bombastic pre-holiday head-cleaner that likely sent a few fans scrambling for the tryptophan early to calm down. The "devices" were allowed to come out at the end as both Fripp and bassist Tony Levin aimed their own cameras on the audience, celebrating the cerebral but still visceral prog rock party that had just occurred.

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