Nowhere else do you see three robust drum sets in the front of the stage, with the band elevated behind them. King Crimson’s eight musicians — led by Robert Fripp — put on their typical maniacal show Wednesday night at the Egg’s Hart Theater.
Wherever you located the three drummers, they’d still dominate the visual and audio landscape. If nothing else happened Wednesday night, they would have been worth the ticket price.
But plenty happened during the mayhem. There were times when the group played a few straight tunes, like “The Errors,” where you could tap your foot, count on the verse and chorus to come around when expected. But for the most part we got ruthless, demonic mashes of chords with — and often against — deep-thrumming tom-toms that alternated between music and a science experiment (there were no lab coats on the musicians, but five of them wore ties).
While Fripp is the only founding member on stage — the group started in 1969 — there was no apparent leadership. There was no eye contact among the members, no talking, no physical cues, no one even counted-out the start of a tune. Yet everyone continued to show up in the right spots during the most complex moments, starting and finishing before the end of a phrase, or a few decimal points before the downbeat.
Singer Jakko Jakszyk played the front-man role, singing ballads like “Fallen Angels,” and playing a few moments of lead guitar, when he would suddenly rise above the fray to offer a few screaming lines. Even these fairly structured tunes were packed with tonal shifts, 90-degree mood swings, and instant tempo changes that left skid marks.
After some orchestrated thunder-drumming, the group fell into the familiar “Starless,” which started off sounding like smooth-jazz, with reed player Mel Collins playing the fills. Then came the sinister bass line from Tony Levin, while Jakszyk gradually worked his way up the fret board. Percussion moved from one drummer on a wood-block to eventually all eight limbs in full execution. The sound swelled to epic proportions, the entire movement was wonderful to hear and watch. The room handled the hearty volume nicely. A long, reverent standing ovation followed by the audience of predominantly men.
Fripp spent the night at his control center in the upper-right hand corner of the stage. His movement was minimal. He wore large black headphones, played with a few knobs at the console, touched his small keypad, and strummed thin chords on the electric guitar that stayed strapped on him while he sat. Yet you had the hunch he was the man behind the dark activity, like Madame Defarge in the corner threading together the foundation of the revolution.
The three drummers spent a lot of the night at full speed — collectively and separately. At one point they traded cymbal crashes down the line and back, each finishing off the other’s statement. What started as “Are three drummers necessary?” eventually turned to, “No one drummer could have handled that show.”
There were obvious choreographed parts, which were wonderful — a conductor would have seemed appropriate — as well as plain, free-for-all wildness that surely comes out different every time they play it.
Even during the set break, speakers played disturbing chimes with haunted soundscapes, rather than the typical half-time soundtrack.
The funky “Easy Money” displayed a side they don’t always show, and they gave it the standard Crimson treatment with exotic pitches and prog-rock concepts.
They crossed the finish line some three hours later with the gigantic and menacing “In the Court of the Crimson King,” and then the multi-movement of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
This featured a drum solo, then pandemonium from the full band, capped by another long standing ovation.
Wednesday night was the first of a double-header. The band will play again tonight to a full house.