Review: King Crimson at the State Theatre in Minneapolis

Robert Fripp and Company Keep Unraveling Mysteries

Image: DGM Live

There are artists who conjure a sense of enigma simply by doing their own thing. King Crimson has been an exemplar of this paradigm for much of their on-again, off-again, five-decade existence. In concert last Monday night at the State Theatre in Minneapolis, they made a convincing case for continuing to unravel their mysteries.

Appearing in their latest incarnation as an eight-piece band with three drummers and a very effective septuagenarian horn and flute player, their fulcrum, as always, is professorial guitarist Robert Fripp, who unleashes squalls of scalding riffage while perched on a stool, generally looking as though he could well be playing in a practice room at an interstellar conservatory.

The sound, also as always, tended to be very heavy and very precise, veering between lumbering menace and athletic instrumental passages of jaw-dropping power, though this is a different beast than the band of the past 30-odd years due to the absence of singer-guitarist Adrian Belew, an energetic frontman and one of the most innovative instrumentalist of his generation. Unfortunately his tenure had recently been marked by diminishing returns and the sense of a collaboration grown largely stale (at least measured by recorded output).

Fripp will, of course, outlast them all. King Crimson is not quite a case of l’etat c’est moi, but it’s a good starting place for understanding how the band works. This time out, he’s assembled players from across a spectrum of his combo’s history, and by the time this concert hit the half-hour mark it became apparent that this roll of the artistic dice is one that yields sensible and very appealing results.

This show seesaws between a couple of modes, from the grinding gamelan of later Belew years to, surprisingly enough, a return to a 1970s mode combining airy vocal passages with metallic thunder and impossibly rising tension. The two co-exist almost seamlessly, wedded by thundering percussion and a soaring high end that combine to evoke something approximating a balletic dinosaur.

It’s hard to imagine the band attracting too many converts at this date, which is a shame. There’s a lot of timelessness in their playing that crosses genres, and in shedding some of the sludge of recent years they seem to be clearing their heads, finding a way to unite their different modes and spheres, and making tentative gestures toward something new and immediate (though a deficit of memorable original tunes has been a bugbear in recent years).

But really, just watch them: eight players in suits and ties, straining themselves mightily to do honor to one of the most distinctive visions in the history of music. They are indeed doing so, in an enthralling three hours that ends up feeling enveloping, joyful, happily crushing, and entirely idiosyncratic. They’re an enduring enigma, but it’s thrilling to see them playing with such power and doing it in plain sight.