Tuesday, July 31, 2012

King Crimson 8: Earthbound and USA

Using a live album to say farewell to a disbanded band (and possibly fulfill contract obligations) is not a rare practice, and even King Crimson, who were so bent on challenging the norm, are part of the litany. In fact, they did it twice in their pre-digital era.
That’s not to say there wasn’t resistance from within. Robert Fripp has long insisted that the magic of a live performance can only be appreciated in person, and that no recorded artifact, where audio or visual, can do it justice. That attitude is evident all over Earthbound, collected from concerts with the Islands lineup of the band and originally mastered from a cassette, with sound quality to match. “21st Century Schizoid Man” is more distorted than it should be, and Boz Burrell doesn’t do the vocal justice. He’s not much better on “Peoria”, the boogie improv named after the town where it was recorded. With honking and shrieking sax from Mel Collins, Fripp on the wah-wah pedal, and Boz’s sub-Buddy Miles scatting (as well as on the title track), it’s hard to believe it’s the same band. Slightly more interesting is a 15-minute expansion on “Groon”, the free-jazz B-side from 1970, complete with processed drums. (A much more flattering portrait of the era emerged on 2002’s Ladies Of The Road compilation, which presents the band in better form and better sound. There’s even a 46-minute version of “Schizoid Man” compiled from 13 different performances.)

Earthbound wasn’t even released in America until this century, and only got bonus tracks (of equally fuzzy sound quality) 45 years after it was originally released. In contrast, USA, which was recorded on the tour immediately preceding the recording of Red, sports much better sound overall. With John Wetton and Bill Bruford, this was arguably the best Crimson lineup that didn’t include Tony Levin. Also, given Fripp’s insistence on audio-vérité, some tracks were enhanced in the studio by prog figure Eddie Jobson, who wasn’t even in the band. Still while his contributions are noted, they are well blended into the mix.
After a snippet from “The Heavenly Music Corporation” over the PA, the band crashes in with “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II”. Somehow the finale from that album becomes just as effective an opener here. “Lament” and “Exiles” are ably tackled, also showing how well the Mellotron stayed in tune. “Asbury Park”—like “Providence” on Red—gets its title from the city where it was recorded, and is a worthy improv. “Easy Money” follows shortly, although it fades before whatever the actual ending was, and the band is brought full circle with an excellent take on “21st Century Schizoid Man”, complete with requisite distortion on the vocal. (To preserve the listening experience of the original LP, two tracks from the same show were added for the 30th Anniversary Edition: “Fracture” and a wonderful “Starless” that predates the Red version.)

King Crimson Earthbound (1972)—
2017 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1972, plus 3 extra tracks
King Crimson USA (1975)—4
2002 30th Anniversary Edition: same as 1975, plus 2 extra tracks


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