Monday, July 17, 2017

Things we like: King Crimson, Bill Pohl

All I ever need is something to look forward to. Now, it looks as though I've got a couple: King Crimson will play a rare Dallas date on October 21 (tickets go on sale July 24 at 10am CDT here, and prog-igal (see what I did there?) son Bill Pohl will be visiting Fort Worth from Colorado at the end of July, and has a couple of shows booked.

The publication of David Weigel's The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Progressive Rock started a lot of teapot tempests, if Facebook comment threads I've read are an indication. Prog's been taking it on the chin since the advent of punk, but its adherents are as fervid as metal's, and equally insular. Myself, I haven't read Weigel yet, and probably won't until my public library gets a copy; I can't see shelling out for a tome that has ELP and Rush among its subjects. But don't take me for a hater. This month, I'm rolling with Crimson and Thinking Plague (the band Bill joined after moving to the Rocky Mountain State, whose new album I finally bought after Bill told me they aren't touring this year) in the car, and spinning Doctor Nerve, Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Robert Wyatt at la casa.

Back in the day, I might have found ELP's air-spinning drumkit and Rick Wakeman's wizard's cloak over-the-top, but I thought the same thing about Mott the Hoople's marionettes (when I saw them on Broadway). As one who grew up listening to German opera at pain-threshold volume every weekend courtesy of my old man, I was less taken with conservatory cats who brought classical repertory into the rock arena packaged as spectacle (not that there's anything wrong with that) than I was with the sturm und drang of the Who, Hendrix, and the like. That said, I owned all the prog recs that were typical of a rock-obsessed teen of my place and time (Long Island, '70s): The Yes Album and Close To the Edge (which made better architecture inside my "experienced" brain than the Allmans at Fillmore East, even); Thick As A Brick; In the Court of the Crimson King and Red.

Crimson I loved best of all. Even at its most stately and majestic ("In the Court...," "Starless," "Exiles"), their music carried a sense of dread and menace via Robert Fripp's distorto guitar and the spectral sound of the mellotron -- a keyboard-operated tape replay device that the Crims had the audacity to carry on the road in spite of its temperamental character. Fripp himself, a classically-trained former dance orchestra muso who looked for all the world like a small town schoolmaster, was the most thoughtful and philosophical of music-makers, plus a good writer to boot, as anyone who read his '80s scrawl in Musician magazine can attest.

The original '69 Crimson lineup, which exploded out of nowhere and lasted less than a year, was probably the most alchemical; the '73-74 lineup, anchored by the "flying brick wall" (Fripp's words) riddim section of John Wetton and Bill Bruford, was probably the most adept at improvising. Even in the '80s, with Adrian Belew up front "ruining things" (Jon Teague's words), they were capable of something like "Requiem" from 1982's Beat, on which Fripp and Belew came as close as any guitarists have to replicating the sound John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders made together.

In recent days, I've become quite enamored of 2003's The Power To Believe, featuring a better integrated Fripp and Belew, along with a new "flying brick wall" (Trey Gunn and Pat Mastolotto). The current touring octet includes Mastolotto as one of three, count 'em, three drummers along with returning veterans Tony Levin (bass) and Mel Collins (sax). Setlists I've seen span the band's entire trajectory, including some surprises. This is probably my last chance to see them (which I haven't yet). Now all I need is a ticket.

Closer to home, Bill Pohl has an improv gig (billed as "The Art Five Live at Art 5") booked at Arts Fifth Avenue on Friday, July 28. He'll be joined there by Eddie Dunlap on drums and Joe Rogers on keys -- making this a de facto embedded Master Cylinder reunion -- plus Chris White on brass and flute, and estimable youngster Canyon Cafer on 7-string bass. Then on Saturday, July 29, Bill will play an Allan Holdsworth set at Lola's with Cafer and Christopher "Chill" Hill. Headlining that night will be Big Mike Richardson, who'll perform Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow in its entahrty, accompanied by usual suspects like Ron Geida, Lee Allen, Tyrel Choat, Steve Hammond, and the aforementioned C. Hill. (If I make the latter date, as I intend to, it will be my first time hearing Big Mike -- whose name I first heard from Bill and Kurt Rongey, some 15 years ago -- play electric. Shame on me.)


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