King Crimson live review - Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

King Crimson return to the UK for three nights only

King Crimson live on stage in Aylesbury in 2016
(Image: © Alan Jones)

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On the way to tonight’s show, more than one voice is heard mentioning ley lines. Why else would there be three King Crimson shows in this town, their only UK dates on this year’s European tour? Subsequent – and extremely brief – research reveals that three could converge here in Aylesbury, from Stonehenge, Duddo and, er, Redditch. Truthfully, this Ancient Briton market town – the site of pilgrimage for St Osgyth, the royal manor for William The Conqueror, the home of the Aylesbury duck and the birthplace of Marillion – couldn’t seem less magical on the blustery, drizzle-soaked walk from the train station and past the built-up 90s shopping centre to our destination.

Why here, then? Behold, the Waterside Theatre – the five-year-old, 1,200-capacity auditorium that’s become phase four of Friars, the spiritual home for Aylesbury’s 47-year heritage in rock music (its original venue hosted the fledgling King Crimson back in July 1969).

Guitar god: Fripp

Guitar god: Fripp (Image credit: Alan Jones)

It’s a modern, curvy and elegant art space, even if it is by a whopping great roundabout and the A41. It’s also close to the mystic ‘Crimson triangle’ of three band members’ homes, and you can make your own ley lines from connections in Hemel, Tring, Salisbury and Bredonborough. Last year, Crimson’s UK tour successfully kicked off here with a family and friends preview, and tonight is a reprise. In our orderly queues, we might be ‘F&F’ but we’re all fans here – grown men of status squeal at the sight of Mrs Fripp darting through the crush in the lobby, and those even more eagle-eyed will have spied sister Patricia Fripp on merch duty as they rushed the desk. The excitement is infectious.

As clans assemble on one side, backstage the newest configuration of King Crimson are preparing with a pre-show ritual. An ambiguous photo of it appears on the DGM Live website: there’s chanting (fact), some choreography (fact) and blood sacrifice (a complete fib). ‘Middle drummer’ Bill Rieflin is on hiatus, so Jeremy Stacey has been drafted in by musical director Gavin Harrison. His sessioneering has gone from Sheryl Crow to Squackett. While seasoned enough to learn in a few months the three and a half hours of repertoire the band have built up over three years, he’s still probably a bit sweaty-palmed right now.

Inside, seats fill up and finally the band enter – smartly attired, as ever – for the triple-drum assault that is Hell Hounds Of Krim. Stacey’s role builds on Rieflin’s, the fluid rocker against Pat Mastelotto’s tentacular jazz ace and Harrison’s confident Guerin/Gadd hybrid. Slithering into Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part One, the sound is loud and bright, Tony Levin’s down-slide like a scythe, with staccato guitar from Jakko Jakszyk and Fripp thrilling wired. Mel Collins’ saxophone booms ominously. It’s a strong start on a night devised to iron out wrinkles.

(Image credit: Alan Jones)

You want surprises, though? How about some Lizard? Knowing that Jon Anderson has been in the country recently for the Progressive Music Awards, you wonder if he’s in the venue, or waiting in the wings… but that’s not King Crimson’s style, and Jakszyk’s warm baritone overlays both a sinister Cirkus and Dawn Song. Hearts flutter a little for the progsploitation funk of a monstrous Fracture, too, before the newest songs Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) and Meltdown lay a path to the most laboured performance tonight, Red. Anyone else would have had a lie-down, or a blood transfusion, by now. Not King Crimson, although we have an Islands getaway, typified by The Letters, with Collins injecting in Flight Of The Bumblebee (he’ll also slip in Eric Coates’ Calling All Workers and Charles Mingus’ Boogie Stop Shuffle through the evening).

Tonight’s set is split by an interval, and the band return with latest songs Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row, Suitable Grounds For The Blues and Radical Action II, galvanising the tightly composed 80s and 90s selections. Now there’s a divine interlocking, lots of exchanged smiles and Jakszyk and Fripp twinkling eye to eye. Jakszyk’s vocal is initially lost on Easy Money, but they’re on the home straight as planets align for Crimson’s signature hymn – and that most wonderful exercise in tension and release – Starless. There really are no words as a venue jumps to its feet to applaud.

But wait, there’s the encore. It’s a swift Banshee Legs Bell Hassle before a completely unexpected dive into Heroes. It’s the straightest thing they’ll play all night, but that shoulder-roll shuffle, that phosphorescent guitar line and the sheer empathy in the room for Fripp playing this in memory of his friend David Bowie… aah, there’s the magic.

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Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.