It is indeed a shame that I can’t seem to write about the music I love lately without mentioning a sad loss. This post is no exception. We lost John Wetton early this year and it seems that many of the prog rock pioneers are, sadly, leaving us.
By ’74 I had been to many a rock concert since first seeing Yes in 1971 and this was my second time seeing Bill Bruford. When I saw Yes last he had been replaced with Alan White. I would see him again filling in for Phil Collins with Genesis. I had been a fan of Crimson since 1969’s In The Court of the Crimson King. I first heard it on WNEW FM and was thrilled when my middle sister bought it straight away. My oldest sister hated 21st Century Schizoid Man and was relieved when I Talk to the Wind came on. I had a friend who disliked his neighbor and put his speakers in the window facing said neighbor’s house and blasted Schizoid on ten.
This concert was part of the excellent Schaefer Music Festival concerts in Central Park, Manhattan. What could be better than concerts sponsored by a beer company that cost next to nothing and gave you the ambiance of Central Park?
We arrived very early so we could set up close to the stage and the sound system. My friend Frank brought his Nakamichi 550 portable cassette recorder to record the show. This was a high-end professional level tape recorder with three microphone inputs, Dolby B noise reduction and two 45 dB range peak meters. It’s high dynamic range and low distortion made reel to reel decks obsolete. It weighed almost twelve pounds and cost the equivalent of about $3200.00 in today’s money. Yet, its leather case and strap made it indistinguishable from a man purse. Perfect for taping concerts.
The first sounds we heard were Frippertronics. It was Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting being played through the sound system. The band soon emerged, as I recall dressed mostly in white, Bruford wearing his signature overalls and David Cross played a white mellotron, except for Robert Fripp who was dressed in black with his jet black Gibson Les Paul with the three Humbucker pickups and a black mellotron. The opening song was Twenty First Century Schizoid Man. I was floored, sitting very close to the amps, the power of the song was incredible. I remember John Wetton’s performance as being impassioned. After schizoid he eased into Lament which then proceeded to also explode. You can check it out here:
Here is the setlist:
1 Walk On… No Pussyfooting (2:11)
2 21st Century Schizoid Man (7:58)
3 Lament (4:49)
4 Exiles (7:53)
5 Improv: Cerberus (8:27)
6 Easy Money (6:26)
7 Fracture (11:20)
8 Starless (12:31)
9 The Talking Drum (5:30)
10 Larks’ Tongues In Aspic: Part 2 (6:55)
When the concert was over I felt like I had witnessed something historic, important. I guess I had. This was the last concert for this particular lineup of King Crimson and the last by the band until 1981. This was my favorite incarnation of the group outside of the original 1969 Crimson.
When I first heard the King Crimson Collectors’ Club recording of this concert released in April 2000 I thought I was listening to Frank’s tape. You can hear crowd chatter that would not be present in a soundboard recording. Could it be? In the remastered edition released as part of the box set “The Road to Red” the liner notes say this:
“The recording of the final concert from Central Park on July 1st is of unknown provenance. It seems too well-balanced to be the usual illicit cassette player smuggled into the venue, and yet the presence of chatter during one of the pieces shows that neither is it a properly mixed recording. Possibly it is a bootleg recorded on a pair of microphones over the stage. The audience links jump around (as does one section of Fracture), but in its way, it is possibly the closest to the actual sound of a venue. It is significant in that it captures the last live performance of this line-up.”
I don’t remember seeing any microphones “over the stage”. So, maybe this is a low-gen copy of my friends tape. I can’t say for sure, but, it sure brings back memories.