King Crimson: the Starless Box

I havent posted here for ages – I’ve been waiting until I had something to say.

It was absurdly expernsive – and even as of this date no alternative, sensibly-priced-if-priced-at-all methods of acquiring the material have presented themselves. But I hope someone, somewhere, who was more of a casual Crimson fan than a diehard, took the gamble and bought this box. Because this – more than anything else – demonstrates all the reasons for Crimson’s enduring cult legend status.

Few people reading this will need the facts about the Starless album, or will need to be told about the more well-known concerts in this huge box set – i.e the awesome Zurich, the spotty but sometimes terrific Glasgow, the sadly-still-incomplete Amsterdam.
(Added note: But I don’t see why they had to include an amateurish edit of the Distress/Mincer sequence including the overdubbed vocals, on the main Zurich disc, given that they already had the classic board/bootleg hybrid edit, which is here on Disc 26).

What you want to know is – are there any more shows (meaning “any more improvisations”) on that level inside the box. The answer is, nearly – and bear in mind that even a second-division Crimson gig from this period is better than most people’s best. The Red box set disappointed us with its revelations that there were so many shows on the US ’74 tour in which they didn’t (capital-I) Improvise at all, or where they were limited to the pre-Exiles buildup (you know what I mean…). Rest assured: there is lots more improvisation here. And there is lots more atonality, more orchestral percussion, more of David Cross’s violin, more arhythmic bass, more moments where one person unexpectedly recapitulates and develops a phrase which someone else had recently dredged up from their memory banks…more of everything we love about this KC era.

Hardcore fans: you can finally ditch your bootlegs of the Mainz show – the missing songs are here on one of the subsidiary discs. (Added note: But beware – the last portion of the Mainz main disc was defective on my copy – you’ll still need your Collectors Club disc).
Udine (the “Guts On My Side” show) is here in full, again split into two parts, with the audience tape mildly polished up (the pity is that the sound there is slightly weaker than the “Guts…” track on the Starless 40th Anniversary Edition – but at least we have the whole show).

Anyone slee: The German shows toward the end of the first tour are especially great – Bruford-ologists certainly will like Kassel and Gottingen a lot! (Actually there’s great use of tuned percussion in several of the improvisations, but those two shows take the cake for Bruford-steps-into-Muir’s-shoes stuff).

The only small disappointments – there are a couple of shows short on improvisation (in Augsburg Cross drifts into a gentle solo but finds himself suddenly overtaken by the Exiles chords – they were working against a curfew). The RF announcements aren’t quite as entertaining this time. And the excellent London “press cuttings” show isn’t included (though if you’re looking for Laments with the rapid-fire guitar solo intact: there are a few! There are a couple of Fractures with the short-lived improvised solo section too!)
Fracture incidentally seems to have been a continual trouble-spot: on both tours there are versions where RF gets his fingers stuck more than once, or the (a)rhythm(ia) section lose their place. But that’s part of the fun – sometimes RF will quickly turn a mistake into a new arrangement idea.
Starless (the song) is heard developing a bit – not just in the ever-changing lyrics but in the solos (Cross was still playing the manic solo on violin in this era – and RF was quicker to deviate leave the drone behind) – and at one point they added an extra chord leading into the drone section: nice idea.