It’s the time of year for saving money!
The new eight-disc boxed set featuring the terrific new documentary, In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 shines incredible light on — and insight into — the heart and soul of this legendary and pioneering progressive rock band. The package is quite a wonder for fans, old and new alike.
For the newcomers just discovering the joys of all things from the Fripp-i-verse (if you will), the collection offers a great overview of the group, including the acclaimed documentary by Toby Amies which puts them into a historical, musical and even emotional perspective. And for the long standing, serious Frippophile enthusiast, it offers a wealth of rare and previously unreleased live and studio material.
From the Burning Shed website (where you can order this fine collection as well as on Amazon), we learn that:
“An 8 disc (2Blu-Ray/2DVD/4CD) box set edition of Toby Amies’ superb documentary In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 including the full documentary film, an edit from an early version of the film, live and studio performances from the 50th anniversary tour, and an abundance of additional footage.The music from the original soundtrack (and more) is spread over 4 CDs and features many previously unreleased and new to CD tracks. Housed in a rigid slipcase, the 8 discs are beautifully packaged in mini-gatefold sleeves along with a 48-page booklet with notes from Toby Amies, King Crimson manager, music & film producer David Singleton, a statement from Robert Fripp and tour photos by Tony Levin and David Singleton plus still images from the film.”
The technical specifications of the various discs are a bit complex but in short, most of the audio on the films is presented in 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution including in DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital surround and LPCM Stereo formats. All of the 5.1 mixes are solid and decidedly non gimmicky to the point where I wondered at one point whether I was hearing surround sound at all. I was, but at first listen the mix seems very simple, placing emphasis on the front channels. Given the complexity of the music at hand and the emotions of the documentary in particular, I am OK with that. It makes sense and keeps your attention very much on the artists.
While Toby Amies’ fantastic documentary is at the heart of this boxed set, I am not going to spend a great deal of time formally “reviewing” In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 as that has been covered extensively elsewhere. The film has featured at many influential independent film festivals including South By Southwest. In fact, its receiving such a great audience responses that it has maxed out at 100-percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ “Tomatometer” and garnered a whopping 93-percent audience score!
I will try to summarize my take on it after only seeing it once (I do plan to watch it again soon!). In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 is more than a documentary. It is a heartfelt emotional journey tracing the band’s roots from its 1969 birth on through the final performances of its most recent — and arguably, most powerful — incarnation. The focus is largely on the people who made and continue to make the music. The film also pays poignant tribute to the late drummer-keyboardist Bill Rieflin, who we learn along the way was dealing with a terminal illness. The way Mr. Amie handled this was nothing short of brilliant and honorable, capturing a very spiritual moment for the band and viewers alike.
Robert Fripp himself sums up the film quite perfectly in the booklet included with the boxed set:
“Toby Ames has succeeded in making a grown-up film about working players of a certain age — living, dying, laughing, playing and rocking out! What Toby has not done is tell me what King Crimson is. But that I already know. Perhaps some of those who have been touched by King Crimson and its music already know too. Even so, it is unlikely that they have had an introduction to the mechanics of the process. And here is one excellent introduction.”
If you don’t need the full boxed set, there is a stand alone DVD/Blu-ray package of In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 (which you can get by clicking here)
The four CDs includes in the boxed set, however, offer so much fantastic bonus material it would have been hard for this long time Crim fan to turn it down. Its also hard to know where to start as so much of it is…. well… fantastic!
For example, the 1981 version of the band’s classic ballad “Matte Kudasai”features an alternate introduction. I’m especially excited about the version of “Easy Money” from Oakland, California’s Fox Theater (Sept. 5, 2019) as I was at that show!
One particular track astounded me a bit due not simply because of the inter-stellar musicianship but due to the incredible fan interaction I noticed. When I finally watched the bonus 2020 live concert recorded in Rio de Janeiro, my suspicions were revealed: the audience was aggressively and enthusiastically singing along with the beautiful slow ballad, “Epitaph” (which comes from King Crimson 1969 ).
This was a bit surprising to me, not because it’s a bad song — “Epitaph” is a wonderful piece! But it was interesting as King Crimson fans here in America tend to not come together in massive group sing-alongs. Especially on the slower songs.
Of course, there are exceptions… Over the years, I know that I have sung along to the chorus of “In The Court of the Crimson King,” “21st Century Schizoid Man,” and “Frame By Frame.”
But to hear a huge crowd singing “Epitaph” as if was The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” or The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” is revelatory. Clearly, Crim fans there are that connected to the music which is fantastic to see. When you watch the video, you can see just how impassioned this audience is, cheering the group on between songs as if they were a soccer team between plays, shouting “King Crim-SOHN! King Crim-SOHN! King Crim-SOHN! ”
The footage, from a broadcast, is fairly high quality visually and sonically. It showcases the the individual prowess of each player. It’s astounding to see the opening “Drumzilla” sequence up close where you can really feel just how attuned the three drummers are to one another on stage: Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison.
And what a joy it is to see Robert Fripp’s face here, out of the shadows, often smiling and clearly enjoying this particular version of his amazing group.
One of the other astounding things I found on the box that on the Blu-ray disc – also included in DVD versions for those of you who still have those players – is called Tring: Live In The Studio.
I’ve always been a fan of hearing the group in studio setting and being able to watch them working their magic in this sort of environment is incredible. Cameras on each member of the group are supplemented by at least one roving camera person. Together Tring: Live In The Studio captures the essence of King Crimson, offering unique angles and intimate moments that you would pretty much never get to see in a live concert experience or even from a live concert video.
They also, thankfully, don’t employ now-cliched fast cuts between scene changes, instead giving the viewer ample time to absorb what is going on in front of them.
Tring: Live In The Studio alone is essential for anybody who plays an instrument and watch look up close at the fingers and movements of these spectacular musicians.
One of the other fun surprises was discovering that King Crimson worked up a cover of Robert Fripp’s solo track “Breathless” which hails from his 1979 release Exposure. Checking the handy “setlist wiki” called Setlist.fm, it seems the band only performed the song 17 times, or at least only 17 have been reported by fans. Either way, it was a pretty limited run of performances so its nice to have this version from Poland in 2018 as a fine representative of the effort.
My only wish is that the best of these new tracks which have not formally appeared on a dedicated King Crimson album — save for compilations like this and Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind), Meltdown – Live in Mexico as well as Audio Diary 2014-2017 — should be pulled out and assembled into a proper album form.
At the end of the day, as I’m watching this footage in the In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 boxed set, a tear is welling up from the corner of my eye as I realize that we may never see this group perform live again, certainly not in this incarnation.
But how fantastic is it that we have had the honor of being in their presence during this span of time? I know I am grateful to have been on Earth when Mr. Fripp and his bandmates not only walked… but roared! In the future, I have no doubt that scholars will look back on this music with astonishment in the same at times jaw dropping way we now view composers like Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varese, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Philip Glass.
In The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson at 50 is essential viewing and listening.
[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music across the analog and digital realms at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found writing about vinyl releases at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more. An avid vinyl and surround music collector, Smotroff is an audio enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. You can learn more about his background at LinkedIn.]