A perpetually mutating jigsaw that can never be completed or even made to conform to standard notions of what a jigsaw actually is, King Crimson remain the band by which all other ensembles operating under the ‘prog’ banner must be judged.
In keeping with their proprietary dominance of the genre’s spirit, if not its most recognisable tropes, this latest incarnation of Robert Fripp’s questing maze of muscle memory have already generated a deafening buzz – or perhaps roar is more apt – by offering yet more tantalising glimpses of where this extraordinary music is to travel next.
Live At The Orpheum is, of course, an incomplete and superficially infuriating document of the septet’s two shows at LA’s Orpheum theatre last autumn: those lucky enough to attend will have witnessed a fuller picture, but not the finished article, while the rest of us will simply have to make do with one typically obtuse intro and six songs proper, only one of which represents fresh sonic mince from the Frippian idea grinder.
Frankly, at this point and with the prospect of a new studio album twinkling hypnotically in the near distance, this brief snapshot is more than enough, as the familiar but endlessly alien clatter and clang of these ancient but ageless songs erupts, sounding evermore like music from some noble future where pursuit of the new has usurped cowed repetition as the accepted modus operandi of the day. One More Red Nightmare, as sinister and startling as it ever was, provides a thrilling entry point, those riffs churning as if belched from some unknowable abyss, those twists and turns executed with intuitive panache.
The ConstruKction Of Light, all hazy melancholy and thwarted oomph, is resurrected with deft intensity, while the one burst of virgin vigour – here named Banshee Legs Bell Hassle, but who knows what it will become as the months whizz by? – lurches, writhes and jabs at synapses, cochlear nerves and the impoverished ambition of others; not quite a renewed manifesto, but thrillingly premonitory nonetheless. Zooming nimbly back to Islands, both The Letters and Sailor’s Tale sound reborn, underpinned by the triple percussive attack of Harrison, Rieflin and Mastelotto, while a final, clock-stopping Starless hammers home the emotional weight that lurks within this storm of professorial sturm und drang.
The album’s overall sound is bright and a tad clinical – bright lights shone on a work in progress, perhaps – but, overall, Live At The Orpheum noisily proclaims the triumphant return of the Crimson King. Exciting, isn’t it?