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King Crimson

Neal and Jack and Me DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

King Crimson’s ‘return to the throne’ in the 1980’s must have been viewed with a degree of skepticism. The band made a name for themselves in the 1970’s with their dark blend of symphonic grandeur and intense heaviness, mixed with an improvisational spirit that would drive them to push every song and performance into parts unknown.

The 1980’s version of the band removes much of the improvisational spirit, instead basing their sound around a variety of world music styles and influences. Gone were the lengthy tracks with fantasy lyrics; in their place were gamelan inspired tracks with interlocking ostinato guitar lines, quirkier lyrics (courtesy of Adrian Belew), and two reasonable lead voices (Belew and bassist Tony Levin). The band remained “stable” for 4 years, releasing three albums and touring fairly extensively over that time frame, before dissolving in 1984.

King Crimson also released two home videos documenting their 1980’s line-up. Both The Noise: Live in Frejus 1982 and Three of a Perfect Pair – Live in Japan 1984 became highly sought after releases when they were discontinued, only to be eagerly snapped up in the mid 1990’s when finally re-released on Robert Fripp’s Discipline Global Mobile records. These two videos are now finally available in a single DVD package titled Neal and Jack and Me.

Chronologically, The Noise is the first of two performances on this DVD. Taken from a concert performed in Frejus, France on 27 August 1982, this video sees King Crimson performing an abbreviated set opening for Roxy Music (lest one think this is strange, remember that Crimson has performed opening sets on the HORDE tour in 1996 and with Tool in 2001). Filmed for TV broadcast by Music Television, the video has somewhat of a film look to it. It’s actually somewhat surprising to see the number of photographic flashes going off in the audience during the opening performance of “Waiting Man,” which also shows off Adrian Belew’s percussion shops as he and Bill Bruford duet on electronic pads. Editing is fairly nice, with relatively extended cuts and some nice close ups, such as a lengthy one showing Tony Levin playing Stick with the angle tight in on his hands. Occasional and light film damage can be seen in the form of speckles in darker scenes; it would have been nice to have this cleaned up and corrected, but it does not detract noticeably from the video. Sound quality is excellent, and the set list allows the band to explore their rockier side as well as their mellower exploratory mode, albeit from a song based standpoint.

Three of a Perfect Pair was taken, as the title implies, from the band’s 1984 touring cycle, which supported their third and final 1980’s album of the same name. Taken from a pair of shows on 29 and 30 April 1984, this is a full length headlining performance filmed at the Kain Hoken Hall in Tokyo. The execution here is also solid, with a much more extensive set list (as befits a band with an additional album under their belts). The concert opens with an improvisational piece that would build as band members came on stage to add their touches to the piece. The mood quickly shifts as the band jumps into a spirited rendition of “Larks Tongues in Aspic III,” and the group is off to the proverbial races.

The video quality is very good, slightly softer than that seen on The Noise, and with more of a videotape look to it. Interspersed between song performances are short vignettes of the band’s travels in Japan, including stops at Shinto temples, brief moments back stage, and so on. While interesting, they break the concert into several sections, and would have been better served being removed entirely or given as a special features option.

Speaking of special features, this DVD includes a fairly limited but interesting selection. Leading off the specials menu is a short form video for the single “Sleepless” off Three of a Perfect Pair. It’s amazing to think that King Crimson made a music video, but it’s here in all its glory. It’s an interesting bit of filmic fluff, and while it’s easy to see why it might not have gotten a lot of screen time (not the least reason of which being that it was for a song by King Crimson), at least the band was trying to stay current while at the same time remaining true to their musical vision. The second special feature is a selection of Tony Levin’s black and white road photos, set in a slide show with what sounds like a sound check version of “Elephant Talk.” Levin’s a great rock photographer, and the photos offer up an interesting look at the band on and off stage. A non-interactive band discography covering Crimson’s 1980’s output concludes the special features.

Neal and Jack and Me is a relatively basic, bare bones production if compared to many current concert DVD productions which offer commentaries, extensive documentaries, multiple camera angles, et cetera. Part of this must be chalked up to the age of the footage. There is certainly no way that the band or directors could have known that a video format would become available that would allow things such as user selected camera angles. While it might have been nice to have additional extras, such as a commentary, ultimately it is the music that must speak loudest. Neal and Jack and Me, from that standpoint, is an unmitigated success, presenting another piece of evidence supporting the standpoint that King Crimson is one of the most diverse progressive bands, always trying something different and unexpected.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

 
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