King Crimson, ‘Music Is Our Friend': Album Review
Like the live adventures from all their other eras, King Crimson have well documented the octet/septet incarnation that, at eight years, ranks as the group's longest-lived lineup. Music Is Our Friend is Crimson's eighth live album since this lineup hit the road in 2013, and truth be told it's such an audacious and successfully ambitious representation of the band we really can't get too much of it.
The key, of course, is the front line of three drummers exploring advanced percussive orchestrations that bring fresh aspects of both power and nuance to the material. That's showcased in abundance on Music Is Our Friend, a 19-track set featuring the whole of this year's tour-closing date in Washington, D.C. (reportedly the last ever in North America for this troupe) along with four additional songs from an earlier stop in Albany. Crimson, as you'd expect, sound well-honed in both settings, the musicians locked in with each other and the repertoire, and playing like, well, we may never see them again.
Highlights? How long do you have? Suffice to say that the entirety of this two-hour and 16-minute set is nothing short of fabulous, reaching and at times even surpassing the high bar Robert Fripp has always set for his assorted versions of the band. It's a bold and dizzying display of musical daring and dexterity, an aural circus that along the way creates some newly definitive renditions of even the most familiar songs. The only quibble would be that, as an audio set, we don't get to see the intricate interplay among Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey (who doubles on keyboards) as they create a multi-drum attack - including the opening "The Hell Hounds of Krim," created especially for this outfit - that would even make the likes of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band jealous.
Crimson devotees will certainly revel in the restored center section of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part One," which has been sideline since 1973, high-reaching arrangements of "Indiscipline" and "Starless" and the warm swinging flavor Tony Levin's upright bass lends to the jazzy "Neurotica." Second guitarist Jakko Jakszyk confidently delivers the vocal portions of "Pictures of a City," "Epitaph," a pulverizing "One More Red Nightmare" and an especially epic rendition of "The Court of the Crimson King," while Crimson veteran Mel Collins, primarily on saxophone and occasionally flute, is a formidable presence throughout the set.
Fripp notes a tour diary entry included in Music Is Our Friend's booklet that the show-closing "21st Century Schizoid Man" is also the same song Crimson played at their very first U.S. show back in 1969. If it indeed closes the chapter of this version of King Crimson - and perhaps King Crimson, period - it's ending on an appropriate high note. Like the best friendships, this is one to be cherished for a very long time.