Rubbernecking – A Review of King Crimson’s 50th Anniversary Tour

by Martin Bremer

So you walk across a path over an actual moat and under a brick arch into the open inner courtyard of the old citadel-turned-show-venue where the concert will take place in an hour or so, and you begin to hear short resonant musical ‘gestures’ — like the flick of a wrist and roll of fingers into a loose fist, only with notes instead of images. It sounds like a set of those Tibetan bowls that you hit to produce a soothing bell-like tone struck in rapid sequence in a descending pattern, with not a huge range between the highest and lowest notes. Then, a generous amount of echo and reverb take over for a good while before the next dissonant bell-gesture comes around. As you walk past the beer and food stands towards the stage and discover upon asking that a beer costs five euros (plus two that you get back when returning your fancy cup), you see and hear that the bells’ sound is almost hard-panned between four loudspeakers, i.e. channels, surrounding the seat-purchasing section of the audience, so that each bell-gesture comes from a different corner of the seats area. You, however, who are among the standing audience, must stand more of less directly behind and under the speakers in the back. In essence, the ‘surround’ sound is only fully enjoyable by the higher-rate-paying audience. ‘Oh well,’ you might then be saying to yourself as you begin to consider that the concert is put on in favor of the rows of people whose back you will be peering over for the duration of the show, and that you are essentially being allowed to peep in at the concert, really, from just outside its perimeter. 

Another fact that might possibly clue you in on whom the concert is actually for is that there are two large signs onstage, right up-front: if you have been pushing off a visit to the optometrist, you might attribute the illegibility of these signs to your own poor vision; until, that is, a fellow standing-audience member stops next to you, right behind the stanchions, and squints and expresses her own inability to read the signs. The fact that the signs turn out to start off by welcoming the audience only adds insult to injury — if you’re paying attention. 

You also spot a stall advertising Indian Street Food, which it’s probably best not to speculate on the prices of. 

The Berliner crowd was, by and large, ‘diversely’ white. People in their twenties wearing baggy linen pants and open footwear. Rich men with cotton sweaters draped over their shoulders, boating-shoe’d and sockless. Rich ladies exclusively accompanying their husbands and seeming markedly less enthusiastic about progressive rock than their spouses, frowning liberally and looking rather bored and lonesome. Also, middle-aged biker and older hippie couples — a prevalence amongst the men of sideburns whose widths seem not to have been revisited in two decades minimum, and ponytails galore, too, among these gents. And, finally, a slight majority, perhaps, of folks without any strong inclination to express their identities in a manner so explicit such as some of these other groups’, and who are very comfortable in their own skin and do not worry about seeming bland to others, thank you very much; people so comfortable with the way things are that only the threat to change said things could make their skin feel in any way ill-fitting. 

Still contemplating the division between seated and standing audience, you glance around for the presence of any infrastructure in case of uncooperative weather, which you do not currently find evidence of, and vaguely consider the likelihood that any such infrastructure would be extended over the standing portion of the audience. You decide that, in the same vein as the pricing of the Indian Street Food sold on site, this line of inquiry might be best left un-dwelled upon. 

Another detail that radically increases in prominence after you first take a mental note of it is the unusually high density of bucket hats among the audience. This is intriguingly true even across the ticket-price gap, though the significance of this audience-intersectional bond (if any) escapes you. 

You quickly notice that you forgot to bring the earplugs you wanted to bring just in case and just about reach the conclusion that you probably will not need them anyway, standing where you are in relation to the loudspeakers, when an announcement comes through said speakers to welcome everyone in the audience to King Crimson’s 50th Anniversary Tour and inform us that any type of recording of the concert — onto whichever medium aside from the concertgoers’ own brain matter as a hopefully fond organic memory — is strictly forbidden. The announcement is first translated (it sounds like on the spot) into German and then delivered in the unmistakable hobbit-esque British accent of The-Man,-The-Legend, the Crimson King himself, Mr. Robert Fripp, either via microphone backstage or pre-recorded file. The German translator and Mr. Fripp both invite you all to see this evening’s concert as ‘eine Party / a party.’ They further urge you to enjoy it as it takes place, instead of experiencing it through a tiny screen that impedes not only one’s own view but that of other paying attendees behind one, and to be entirely present there, with the band, at your collective party, instead of focusing on capturing a hopelessly low-fi version of it for (assuredly disappointing) later viewing. It occurs to you that this announcement reiterates (at least the spirit of) the message on the big signs on the stage and thus extends their welcome to the standing audience as well. Mr. Fripp and the German-translation lady conclude by promising you a chance to take a couple of stills as mementos, if you are so inclined, after the show; the signal, they say, will be Tony Levin himself bringing out his camera to take a picture of you, the Berliner crowd. 

The band comes on. Their mere existence seems to be enough for thunderous approval and affirmation from the audience. Mr. Fripp takes a seat. Mr. Levin assumes his signature power stance. The angle between his legs does not seem to decrease to below 60° or so for the duration of the concert. But it is the three gents on the drums who start things off, as if to justify what most bands see as a surplus of drummers, which they do, to an extent, in your opinion. Mr. Gavin Harrison opens the show with a pattern on the toms, which he repeats a few times before his two fellow drummers join him, one after the other. You have to admit that the seeming excess that is three drum sets right upfront onstage does grant a satisfying thickness to each hit. 

What follows are two sets packed with fan service for the old guard out there. You believe the first album, a trip all the way back to 1969, is played in its entirety, if out of the original track order and spread out across the whole concert. These pieces and many others from the band’s early years sound almost as out of place among the more recent material as this latter material must sound to someone who is primarily interested in their early works. In essence, it sounds a bit like two concerts crashed into one another and got all tangled up, and they were very different automobiles indeed, which in a way makes you, the audience, a bunch of (paying) rubberneckers. Later you think of it in terms of that classic Reese’s commercial, like, ‘Hey! You got classic King Crimson in my modern King Crimson…’ etc. It would seem very difficult to you to justify a set list including I Talk to the Wind and Level 5 had they not both been released under the same band name. 

You do feel like some melodic material gets drowned out in the wall of sound and suspect that it has to do with your position outside the cones of the loudspeakers. Or maybe that is just sort of inevitable with outdoor concerts. 

The echoey bells return at the intermission and you feel like you are on a long economy-class flight, albeit one without the complimentary amenities but with vastly superior entertainment. You renew your astonishment at the discomforts people will put up with in exchange for lower (yet not necessarily low) prices, while, on the other side of the transaction, the airline or concert venue or whatever gets away with packing their customers together like cattle and raking in the profits. You’re right. It is kind of sickening. 

All in all, the concert is either (a) excellent, if you enjoy the band’s ouvre starting from 1969 and up until the present date; (b) so-so, if you had to sit through a bunch of the band’s material from a period of theirs that you do not care about as much, or at all; or (c) tedious, if someone has dragged you along to it and the whole thing was just not your cup of tea.

The band plays 21st Century Schizoid Man as an encore.

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