King Crimson continue to march to the beat of their own drummers. All three of them.
Ever since Robert Fripp reneged on his half-ass promise at retirement, King Crimson fans have probably been wondering just who the next functioning band was going to be. Not that they weren't prepared for a personnel shift. King Crimson devotees have been putting up with lineup changes for decades and musical weak links have proved difficult to come by. A quick answer to Who is King Crimson in 2015? is that it's the lineup that recorded A Scarcity of Miracles plus industrial music skin pounder Bill Rieflin. So yes, that means that King Crimson now has three drummers. Vocalist Jakko Jakszyk has reprised his role from the "King Crimson ProjeKct" as did saxophonist Mel Collins, who initially left the band in the early '70s. Gavin Harrison and Pat Mastelotto have hopped back on board, making Rieflin's job all the more baffling. The ever reliable Tony Levin holds down the low end and the ever restless Fripp continues to somehow make it all happen.
In 2014, this King Crimson lineup hit the road with their Elements of King Crimson tour. Live at the Orpheum consists of material from two shows at Los Angeles's Orpheum Theatre. The odd thing about Live at the Orpheum is how small it is. With seven tracks at almost 41 minutes, this is puny by King Crimson standards. The band has been trafficking heavily in live albums for the past twenty years or so and a majority of them have been enormous. But Jakszyk had the final say in what made the cut for Live at the Orpheum, and his standards for a live album could be different from what went into, say Heavy ConstruKction. But you can't even really call this a quick stroll through the garden of King Crimson past. It's a quick glance out the back door, possibly depicting a band that is ready to move on to the future already.
So what did make it on to Live at the Orpheum? You'll find two tracks from Red, two tracks from Islands, one from The ConstruKction of Light and two odd little pieces that function as an introduction and an interlude. It's hard to tell where the live ambiance ends and the studio manipulation begins on the strangely titled "Walk On: Monk Morph Chamber Music". Without it, the led-heavy riff that kicks off "One More Red Nightmare" would have been the first thing you hear on the album and that certainly wouldn't have been no great tragedy. Jakko Jakszyk's pipes sound more like Jack Bruce than Adrian Belew or John Wetton, but that matters for nil when he can chase any note up the scale and stay true to the ambitious nature of King Crimson's music. Collins finds ways to insert himself though they may not please every seat in the house (his use of soprano sax on "Starless" coming to mind). And when it comes to the Levin/Harrison/Mastelotto/Rieflin rhythm section, this doesn't sound like an album made with three drummers. Granted, I don't really know what all three of them are doing in a literal sense, but the precise nature of a percussive sound coupled with King Crimson's head-spinningly complicated songs is enough of a burden for one drummer alone. The fact that Live at the Orpheum never sounds cluttered or off-kilter is incredible. Even when the band is really in the thick of their own noise on "The Letters" and "Sailor's Tale", they continue to make this racket their own without one members sounding like they were even close to leaving the rails.
Live at the Orpheum concludes with no audience noise. The final notes of "Starless" just fade away. There they go, playing by their own rules...again. But that's what we pay them for and that's what we'll hold them to. Bring on that next studio album, ya prog nosticators.