Few bands have managed to reinvent themselves as successfully as King Crimson. Formed in 1969, their first album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, ushered in the era of Progressive Rock, but by the mid-Seventies the band had moved into jazz-fusion territory before breaking up in the mid-Seventies. The early Eighties found the reconvened band ploughing a similar furrow to the New York New Wave, Talking Heads being one obvious reference point, but having little in common with the Sixties founding fathers.
The latest Crimson incarnation, revived in the mid-Nineties, is something of a pick and mix of previous eras, combining the improvisational power of the Seventies Crimson with the angularity and minimalism of the early Eighties line-up, resulting in what can only be described as alt-metal.
The first disc on this set features a concert recorded in Japan earlier this year, the second, the band's performance at Shepherd's Bush Empire during the summer of 2000, on an all too rare visit to home shores. Every date on the 2000 tour was videotaped with a view to offering downloads on the band's website, in a controversial tie-in with Microsoft. Nothing came of that but some of the footage has been used to create what has to be a unique viewing experience, a concert that is different every time you watch it. This is achieved by randomly inserting Improvisations from different dates on the tour into the concert footage (you'll know when, because the screen momentarily goes blank) capturing the Crims in full flight. The improvisations can also be viewed separately, although this is recommended only for diehard fans.
Musically, as well as technically, the Shepherds Bush date is therefore the more interesting, featuring music that dates back to the early Eighties Crimson as well as the excellent mid-Nineties Thrak album, while also allowing Robert Fripp to reprise his masterly guitar part on an encore rendition of David Bowie's Heroes.
More recent Crimson releases, including The Power To Believe and The Construction of Light have suggested a band marking time rather than genuinely moving forward and that is reflected in the Japan footage that fills the first disc. Technically brilliant and intellectually demanding the most recent Crimson music may be, and it is executed with typical precision on this disc, but a certain lack of feeling, a perennial criticism of Crimson down the years, has been never more evident than in the last three or four years, and suggests inspiration may be in short supply.
Many of the band's current fans were probably not even a twinkle in their parents' eyes when the first, and in my view still the finest, King Crimson line-up conjured up some of the most powerful and enduring moments in rock. By comparison the current Crimson, as evidenced on this DVD, appears to be just a little too controlled and, yes, contrived. And that's a crying shame.