Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Recorded half-way through a forty-date tour across Europe and North America, Live at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 1996 isn't the first live document of progressive rock group King Crimson's mid-1990s Double Trio. But this third volume in the double-disc Collectable King Crimson series - following the 1972-74 configuration's Volume One (DGMLive, 2007) and 1981-84 Crim's Volume Two (DGMLive, 2007) - which makes some of the best of its previously mail order-only live shows available on a larger, commercial scale, represents a number of firsts. It also offers a performance that may make believers of those who feel that 1994-97 Crimson was something of an unwieldy and overwhelming beast.
First, it's the only widely available record of a complete performance by the Double Trio other than B'BOOM: Official Bootleg (DGMLive, 1995), culled from the group's earliest 1994 shows in Argentina. With considerable touring under its belt and a broad cross-section of material from a then 27 year discography, as always Crimson live far surpasses its studio releases. More than just a matter of greater energy and, in this case, upping the tempos of some of the material to near-light speed, the Double Trio represented a return to fearless improvisation inside and out of the context of preconceived songs, with "Improv I" a surprisingly beautiful percussion-less feature for guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, touch guitarist Trey Gunn and bassist/Stick player Tony Levin.
Second, this pristine soundboard mix demonstrates, more clearly than any other Double Trio release, just what having this broad a palette and six concurrent players could contribute to the Crimson canon. Powerful readings of the chaos-meets-minimal-groove of "Neurotica," the metallic prescience of a near-reckless "Red" and two remarkably composed percussion duets from Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto - the set-opening "Conundrum" and the encore set-up to Crimson's popular "Elephant Talk," Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre's "Prism" - demonstrate not only the group's potential for dense sonic mayhem, but richer harmony and complex polyrhythm as well.
Third, with opening act The California Guitar Trio unavailable, Fripp expands his usually brief "Introductory Soundscape" into a full 25-minute mini-set. By this point Fripp's integration of technological advancements (a driving force behind every reconvening of Crimson over the past forty years) into his "guitar as orchestra" Frippertronics of the 1970s, creating the more sonically expansive Soundscapes, had already been documented on albums including 1999 Soundscapes: Live in Argentina (DGMLive, 1994) and would evolve further for Love Cannot Bear: Soundscapes Live in the USA (DGMLive, 2005) and At the End of Time: Churchscapes - Live in England & Estonia, 2006 (DGMLive, 2007). But Crimson show attendees rarely had the opportunity to experience the full impact of Fripp's innovative and seemingly impossible feat of layered, real-time sonic explorations. Largely gentle, but pushing the boundaries into more outré territory at times, it's one of Fripp's best recorded 1990s Soundscapes.
Lastly, despite singing "We don't do '21st Century Schiziod Man'" on "The King Crimson Barber Shop," a humorous bonus track from Three of a Perfect Pair (DGMLive, 1984), Crimson surprises the London audience with its first performance of the iconic song from In the Court of the Crimson King (DGMLive, 1969) in 22 years. As ever, even when facing material dating back to its very beginning, King Crimson never faces anywhere but forward, and this is the reason for Crimson's relative rarity among groups that emerged from 1970s progressive rock. Whether it's symphonic prog, nuevo metal, outrageously aggressive improvisation or rhythm-happy grooves, each successive incarnation of King Crimson has always had something new to say, speaking with its own voice.
The occasional bleed-through of some Beavis and Butthead-like audience members throughout the set's two hour-plus duration only adds to the "you are there" vibe of Live at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 1996. The sheer logistics of rehearsing and touring such a large group would finally cause the Crimson Double Trio to fall apart - "fractalizing," as Fripp has often described it, into a number of smaller experimental units called ProjeKcts that ultimately led to the Double Duo responsible for The ContruKction of Light (DGMLive, 2000) and The Power to Believe (DGMLive, 2003). But despite the age of the performance and the retro potential of even more dated material, some now nearing forty years in age, Live at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 1996 proves the Crimson Double Trio - with but one studio release, THRAK (DGMLive, 1995), a sometimes overlooked incarnation) - to be fresh, vital and, most importantly, completely relevant and utterly timeless twelve years later." -AllAboutJazz
King Crimson: Adrian Belew (vocals, guitar); Robert Fripp (guitar, programming); Trey Gunn (guitar); Tony Levin (upright bass, electric bass); Pat Mastelotto (drums, electronic percussion); Bill Bruford (drums).
The two-plus hour concert contained within this double-CD package serves up a most effective link from the King Crimson of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s with the double-trio resurrection that boasted the unified talents of Adrian Belew (guitar/voice/words), Bill Bruford (percussion/drums), Robert Fripp (guitar), Trey Gunn (touch guitar/voice), Tony Levin (basses/Chapman stick/voice), and Pat Mastelotto (percussion/drums). Both sets of their July 1, 1996 performance at the 2,000 seat Shepherds Bush Empire in London are offered in a superb stereo recording that bristles with the constant transfer between players and attendees alike. However, prior to the full ensemble even having the chance to make it to the stage, it is announced that Fripp will play a solo Soundscape in lieu of the support act -- the California Guitar Trio. The "Introductory Soundscape" spills from Fripp with a buoyancy that foreshadows the formidable program to follow. As the cover of Pierre Favre's "Prism" will bookend at the close, the likewise percussive "Conundrum" kickstarts the proceedings as the rest of the band ready themselves for battle. With over a year of active touring under their belts, King Crimson's set lists had evolved considerably. Newer material from their latest studio effort THRAK (1995) has begun finding its way more organically into the performances. That said, it is not until after the authoritative revival of '80s favorites "Thela Hun Ginjeet," "Neurotica," "Waiting Man," and a slash-and-burn take of the instrumental title track to Red (1974) that they concern themselves with the first rumblings from THRAK via "Dinosaur." Before the conclusion of the first set, the sextet dip deeper into the new pool of fresh sounds on "Vroom Vroom," Belew's brainy-as-ever "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" and the pairing of "Vroom" with the strident "Coda: Marine 475." Disc two contains the slightly shorter -- yet arguably more intense -- second set that begins with a raving update of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2," and a suitably frenzied and otherwise spot-on "Frame by Frame." Even the typically sedate "Matte Kudasai" takes on a heightened sense of exigency. "B'Boom" and the new LP's title composition "Thrak" lead up to what is, by all accounts, an epic unleashing of "21st Century Schizoid Man." Regardless of some old-school enthusiasts' devotion to the original 1969 lineup, even the most ardent supporter would be hard-pressed to find fault with the high degree of interplay, particularly between Fripp and Belew. The pair trade fiery exchanges, the likes of which make a rightfully indelible impression upon the listener. The methodical "Indiscipline" all but puts the wraps on the show -- sans the encore led by Bruford and Mastelotto's masterful rundown of Pierre Favre's "Prism" that is tagged by an energetic "Elephant Talk." In addition to this show, www.dgmlive.com allows interested parties to download other full-length concerts in lossless FLAC and MP3 formats -- one of which is the previous evening, June 30, 1996 at the same venue, Shepherds Bush Empire. ~ Lindsay Planer