King Crimson - Lucca
25th July 2018 (with Jim Knipe)
Lucca is a compact city containing a number of points of interest: Roman remains in the crypt of the church of San Giovanni; the shops and piazza marking the former Roman amphitheatre; the medieval Torre Guinigi crowned with holm-oak and the Torre delle Ore, the tallest of the towers in the city; the details on the west façade of both the Duomo San Martino and San Michele in Foro; Puccini’s birthplace museum; the art deco shop fronts in the Via Fillungo; all enclosed in broad Renaissance city walls. Lucca also has a fine record store, Sky Stone and Songs located on the Piazza Napoleone and which, appropriately for this visit to see King Crimson play the Lucca Summer Festival, had a window display replete with Crimson recordings.
The festival auditorium was set up in Piazza Napoleone, with the huge stage to the west of the square, up against the Palazzo Ducale where, until a few hours before the event started, it was possible to amble in and out of the area. I was picking up my pre-ordered tickets when the soundcheck started at around 5pm and went to join a number of fans at the back of the seating area listen in as the band ran through a couple of numbers; it was obvious that the evening’s performance was going to be special.
After a visit to the merchandise stall for a tour programme and 10” limited edition Uncertain Times double EP we made our way to our seats in block I, row 18, where I was a little disappointed that our mid-price range tickets didn’t afford the view of the band I’d been hoping for, although we had a very good view of the giant screen just to the right of the stage. The performance started on the stroke of 9pm following an announcement in Italian about not recording the event and not taking photographs; this was succeeded by a recording of Robert Fripp emphasising that to ensure we all had a great party we shouldn’t take photos during the concert but, because bassist Tony Levin wanted to take a photo of the crowd when they’d finished playing, we could take photos when Levin took out his camera. Remarkably, following my experiences in Genoa and Brescia for PFM and Le Orme respectively where a sea of 10” tablets and cases obscured my sight line to the bands playing on stage, Fripp’s ‘no photography’ request was obeyed by almost all the crowd.
The set list wasn’t too far removed from the last time I saw them, at the Hackney Empire in 2015, though in the intervening period Bill Rieflin had taken a sabbatical and was replaced by Jeremy Stacey on drums and keyboards, then returned in the role of keyboard player, creating an octet. There was a distinct bias towards material written for early incarnations of the group, and every studio album up to Beat, apart from Starless and Bible Black, was represented by at least one track. The most recent studio album music was Level Five/Larks’ Tongues in Aspic part 5 (from 2003’s The Power to Believe) but they played parts of Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) written specifically for the three-drummer line-up, and the three drummers opened each half of the set with a remarkable percussive display, called for that evening A Tapestry of Drumsons and Drumsons of Psychokinesis. I was pleasantly surprised how much keyboard Fripp played, and how easy it was to distinguish the guitar of Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk; it was more difficult to work out who was playing which keyboard part when Stacey retreated to the back of his drum kit and the big screen showed Rieflin. The role of each drummer was fairly well delineated, with Pat Mastelotto adding a huge variety of colour with some novel bits of percussion and some non-percussion, Stacey’s keyboard responsibilities, and Gavin Harrison acting as the rhythmic anchor, even adding an impressive solo on encore 21st Century Schizoid Man. However, it was when the three operated as a unit that they most impressed, exemplified by their discipline and precision on Indiscipline.
Mel Collins didn’t simply stick to his written lines but was given plenty of room to extemporise, blowing jazz and quoting operatic flute. This free rein with well trodden pieces seemed to add to the enjoyment of the ensemble while also allowing the audience to experience the music in new ways; we were even treated to a new set of lyrics on Easy Money.
The performance, including the break, lasted over three hours. Though loud, the sound was really well balanced. I was delighted by the clarity of the subtleties and strangely for a King Crimson gig, did not feel overpowered by the volume. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope that there’s going to be a DVD release of the concert at some stage because along with the quality of the audio, the big screen camerawork was also rather good.