Robert Fripp famously hated it when King Crimson was lumped in with such exponents of prog/rock as Yes and Genesis; but Crimson was prog/rock indeed, as Peter Sinfeld’s occasionally pinchworthy lyrics conclusively prove, so deal with it, Robert. In fact, I have long contended that the Belew/Levin-era King Crimson of the early ‘80s into the ‘90s reenergized the prog/rock tradition and may well have saved it from its own excesses and misguided middle brow pretentions, providing an alternative, lean and funky model of what prog could be that the genre continues to invoke to this day.
On that trio of revolutionary ‘80s records (Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair), the quartet of Fripp, Belew, Levin and Bruford took the prog/rock impulse, shaved off its floridness and pseudo-philosophical bullshit and successfully associated it with some cool things that were happening at the time in the non-prog world: the guitar sonics of the Police and XTC, the Afro aesthetic of Eno and Talking Heads, the stark pattern study of academic Minimalism and its linguistic equivalents in postmodern poetry.
Man, did it work. Fripp himself is not an especially soulful player, nor does he aim to be; be he sure had good instincts when he paired his own stepwise, mathy style with the fluid, wild, animalistic and soulful musical personality of Adrian Belew (who was also charged with the lyrics and singing, which he discharged admirably). Meanwhile, Levin and Bruford discovered a radical polyrhythmic urgency, often enabled by Tony’s mastery of the uniquely contrapuntal Chapman Stick, that was like nothing any of us had ever heard before.
Much has happened in that circle of players in the last few decades: falling-outs and reconciliations and lots of new music. I can’t speak to who is speaking with whom, but I am thrilled to see Belew, Levin and Pat Mastelotto (Crimson drummer from Thrak forward and – notably – one of the world’s tiny handful of drummers who have played on an XTC album) getting together to play the beautiful new Colony in Woodstock. The show mysteriously adds “and friends” to the event title, and with cats like this, “and friends” is a pretty exciting prospect. A few years ago, it might have been Bowie, for Pete’s sake. I predict Trey Gunn and Markus Reuter.
Ashokan Talent presents Belew, Levin, Mastelotto & Friends at Colony on Friday, August 11 at 8 p.m. And while we’re at it, props to Robert Frazza and Jodie Sleed: professionals who once accounted for why the Bearsville Theater was an unlikely Mecca of experimental and progressive rock and who now, as Ashokan Talent, are venue-agnostic but still quite local, and still keeping the flame alive. Tickets cost $30 and $35. For more information, visit www.colonywoodstock.com. Colony is located at 22 Rock City Road in Woodstock.