A Crimson Break, 2016

In my bachelor days shortly after college, my day-after-Thanksgiving ritual was to hole up in the apartment, stack up some albums and CDs to listen to, and fire up the Civilization computer game for a day-long session of empire-building, fueled by Stouffer’s and soda.

That was 25 years ago. Today, I have wife and kids — and, this year, a sick pet — to fill the day. The PC that used to run Civilization is long gone, and I can’t afford the time to dive into the likes of Civilization VI (and besides, the game sounds like it’s become too much like an actual job).

DGM5013_booklet_pairs_DGM5001 bookletStill, in a nod to rituals past, I did take some time shortly after midnight (technically the second day after Thanksgiving) to fire up the computer and spin some prog. The game this time was much less epic — I’ve gotten addicted to splix.io in the past week and am hoping to burn out on it before I have to go back to work. And the prog was modern-day, but still appropriate for some nostalgia: I’d finally taken the time to get my hands on King Crimson’s Live in Toronto, recorded in 2015 with the new three-drummer lineup.

I went out of my way to avoid seeing the track listing. And I did my best to try to focus on the drummers from time to time, more so than normal. It was fun.

Live in Toronto is an official bootleg, meaning the sound quality isn’t pristine. The drums, in particular, aren’t miked loudly, which is actually good — the CD delivers the DRUMS DRUMS DRUMS sound at appropriate moments, but the drumming doesn’t overshadow the rest of the music. Tony Levin comes through the mix clearly; you don’t have to struggle much to hear him.

The band has a retro touch, between Jakko Jakszyk’s very “prog” vocals (on the order of Greg Lake but crisper) and the presence of Mel Collins, the sax man who was a fixture of ’70s British prog, including early Crimson. The bluesy accents of “Pictures of a City” and “Vrooom” really come out, between the guitar choices and the sax assisting the melody.

The most obvious drummer spotlights are the all-drums track “Hell Hounds of Krim” and the triple solo during “Meltdown,” but one moment that stood out to me was during “Vrooom,” as the drummers playfully handed off high-hat rhythms. The drummer to the left (Pat Mastelotto, judging from the cover photo) plays a quick rhythm, with the center and right-hand drummer following (it’s Bill Rieflin, then Gavin Harrison, I think).

For me, the drums are particularly enjoyable during the quiet segments, with each drummer providing improvised nibbles of texture. But you can’t beat the excitement when all three furiously pound away.

Even so, live recordings don’t give you the full-body experience of being there. Much of the band’s presence is lost in my cheapo audio setup. “Red,” in particular, didn’t feel like the usual ocean wave of force — although when the three drummers kick into full gear at once, it’s massive.

The big, booming older material was welcome, but it also warmed my heart to hear the “Discipline”-like guitar weaving on “Meltdown,” only because it’s been a while since I’ve listened to that kind of Fripp/Crimson. I could actually do without “Epitaph” in general, but it makes for a powerful ending to the first disc, and being in a mood for some nostalgia, I enjoyed it. Nice place to visit.

And now the horrible confession: Between the late hour and my age, I didn’t have the stamina for Disc 2. Luckily there’s a good long weekend ahead. Long live the Crims!

(Random bonus link: Tony Levin’s tour diary, stuffed with photos, as usual.)