King Crimson Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON, November 19

King Crimson Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON, November 19
A tour based on a "best of" album, in this case King Crimson's Elements, can be a pretty safe bet, musically and in performance. Your fans will already know the songs and are happy to fill in whatever weaknesses that occur in the sound or performance by filling in the blanks with happy memory. And given the standing ovations, pre- and post-concert, this was obviously a very special event for a lot of fans.
King Crimson have a long and honourable history of intricately composed and ferociously executed music. If there ever were godfathers of math rock, Robert Fripp and the procession of virtuosic musicians that passed through this band certainly belong in that pantheon.
The array of prog ensembles that came to prominence back in the day became the flowering of musicians who wanted more complexity and challenge in composition and performance without playing jazz or classical. It has given rock its share of high art.
But last night's concert disappointed on a number of levels and no amount of fond memory can save that. On a purely technical basis, it's a lot better to have one drummer who can play like three (Bill Bruford, anyone?) rather than three drummers largely playing like one. The result of the three drummers last night was a viscosity of rhythm and sound that made the music trudge rather than soar. While the sound in the hall was good, the sonic weight of the drums was overwhelming. There were a couple of moments of percussion that livened things up, but for the most part, there was little to justify the extra layers of rock drum cliche.
The concert also took on the air of a classic rock gig and though the "hits" were trotted out — "Easy Money," "Starless," "Epitaph," "Meltdown" and "In the Court of the Crimson King" among others — they were flattened and featureless, though flawlessly executed.
It was very strange to witness music that relied on precision and execution not accomplish what it had on record or in previous performance.
There was little passion and less of the ferocity that marked Crimson as a force to be reckoned with, and left little doubt that well-executed and intricately composed music needs more than technical mastery to make it sing.