King Crimson

King Crimson

Ladies of the Road: Live 1971-1972

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This is a document of some Big Fat Prog-Rock Stylings from a version of King Crimson that seems to have only existed for a two-year span: Boz Burrell on bass and vocals, Mel Collins on sax and flute and mellotron, Ian Wallace on drums, Peter Sinfield on keyboards (at least until he was kicked out halfway through the tour) and, of course, Robert Fripp on guitar. Tracks from this disc have been released to members of the King Crimson Collectors’ Club, but you probably aren’t a member of that, so you won’t have heard this ever before.

And you kind of need to. If you love the idea of an early metal band with jazz chops and a real tension between r&b love (the rest of the band) and classical/skronk pretentions (Fripp), then the results will be great indeed. And if you don’t think that sounds good at all, then you should challenge yourself, because you’ll be surprised at how, well, weird this all sounds.

Disc One busts through nine classic Crimson tunes in 59 minutes, each one sounding bigger and angrier than a carnotaur with blue balls. You get multi-part suites on just about all of ’em, from the film noir boogie-woogie of “Pictures of a City” to the hippie nonsense turning into Coltrane ballad of “Formentera Lady” (Collins’s flute solo is aping Van Morrison’s “Without You” pretty bad here, but his sax solo ends up in Junior Walker territory) to the full-scale scorched-earth policy of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

“Cirkus” weds some of the worst lyrics in history (“Gave me each a horse / Sunrise and graveyard / Told me only I was hers / Bid me face the east / Closed me in questions / Built the sky for my dawn”) with music that is by turns hilariously corny and insanely hard. “Groon” is guitar bebop that gets funky real damn quick, like War or something, and then back to the freakout. Oh, and a completely wrongheaded cover of Donovan’s “Get Thy Bearings” that incorporates just about every genre in one huge long-ass blast. And how about that Zeppelin-blues take on “In the Court of the Crimson King?” Too bad they wuss out and fade it out after only 47 seconds.

All these songs are basically built so that Fripp and Collins can burst out with their unhinged solos, and you get A LOT OF THAT. Especially on Disc Two, which is subtitled “Schizoid Men” and basically remixes eleven (or more) different live performances of “21st Century Schizoid Man” so that the guitar and sax solos from each performance all run together to make one 54-minute version. No, I’m not kidding: most of an hour, one song, nothing really but a tight jazzrockbluesprog band playing under some of the most possessed-sounding soloing I’ve ever heard. Both these guys were hugely influenced by Coltrane and Coleman and Shepp and the likes, so it’s exhilarating to hear their enthusiasm and chops come together like this. Exhausting and slightly boring, sure, but exhilarating too. The solos are great, and they’re edited together so expertly that you have to listen closely to hear the shift in backing band dynamics to know when a new one has started. But mostly you won’t do that because you’ll be all like “ah my ears are fried from all those damned solos! AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

I like this stuff but I can understand why you might not. You might hate fun corny progressive stuff from the early 1970s. If so, then may Buddha have pity on your miserable soul. Me, I’m rockin’ out to the maxx on this stuff, and will continue to do so forever.

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