Soon, Orlando will be in the "Court of the Crimson King" once again — or will it be the other way around, and we'll be courting King Crimson? — when they headline the Frontyard Festival this week.
Led by ever-idiosyncratic guitarist and sole remaining founding member Robert Fripp, these legends of prog rock should find a very enthusiastic audience here in the City Beautiful. There's history here; a heavy 1972 Orlando set in front of a rabid crowd of freaks and lifers has found its way on to some official live albums over the years.
King Crimson is the band that unleashed the beast of what we now know as "progressive rock," and 50 years on, the band are still pushing forward, never resting on laurels.
The branches of King Crimson's musical family tree are long and esteemed. Hendrix and the Stones loved them. Eddie Van Halen gushed over Fripp's guitar mastery. The world of electronica may never have happened without Fripp and Brian Eno's trailblazing excursions into ambient soundscapes. Emerson, Lake and Palmer certainly owe a debt to them, not to mention David Bowie, Blondie, Talking Heads, the Orb, Swans and Peter Gabriel, down through the Mars Volta, Phish and Opeth.
Percussionist Gavin Harrison (Pineapple Thief, Porcupine Tree) plays in the current lineup of the ever-morphing band as one of a triumvirate (!) of percussionists in the seven-strong ensemble. Harrison, one of the younger players in KC, has been with the band for eight years, after bonding with Fripp when the guitarist opened for Porcupine Tree on tour. "He got to see about 50 Porcupine Tree sets," remembers Harrison. "And I think we just clicked."
Harrison talked to Orlando Weekly by phone while deep in tour rehearsals at an undisclosed Tampa location.
How have the rehearsals been going so far this week?
We've all been trying to prepare the material at home, playing on our own, but it's never the same as playing with the other musicians. You can practice alone to a recording as many times as you want, but it's never the same as playing it with the band. This might be our third or fourth day of rehearsals, and everything's coming back slowly. We haven't played for nearly two years. It jogs the memory, let's say.
Was it a nice moment to sort of see everyone in person?
No, I hate them all. [chuckles] That's the weird thing, I think, about being at home for 18 months: You miss the social interaction ... but now we're on day three or four, and it feels like we've all just gone back to where we were socially and musically before. I don't think we've played every single song yet, but the songs are getting better and better the more we play them.
Would you be able to preview any of the setlist?
I don't know if I can do that, but certainly there's a good range of material going right back to the first album. And right up to the 2000s albums, and everything in between. There's a pretty big range of songs to pull from. We're probably going to work on about 36-37 songs. Although of course we won't play them all at every concert, we've got lots of songs that we may or may not play every night. Usually Robert Fripp sends us a setlist in the afternoon of the songs that he picked for that evening, but it's quite different from night to night.
Orlando shows have made their way onto King Crimson live albums, both with Earthbound and the King Crimson Collectors' Club CD, Live in Orlando ... are you bringing any recording gear along for this show?
Oh, we record everything. Everything's recorded every night. Every soundcheck, every rehearsal and usually there's a whole set of cameras filming 4K video as well. Robert likes to have a good archive of stuff, and although it might not appear attractive immediately, a few years down the road, you start thinking, well, wouldn't it be amazing if there was high definition recording and video of that show from whenever, years and years and years ago? Suddenly it becomes very, very valuable. No one at the end of this tour is going to want to listen to or watch any of this immediately, but five or 10 years from now, you'll think, "That was amazing!" And I think, quite possibly, this will be the last time the band is coming around the States. So I would say, if anyone's interested in coming, you should come and see this one.
I read an interview where you were talking about how you're interested in finding creative musical partnerships that push you. Do you feel that challenge with King Crimson?
King Crimson is a very interesting musical group in that there has always has been room to try anything. King Crimson is not commercial, it's not pop. So no one's trying to dance through the songs. You can do some pretty interesting things, or even change your mind and play something different. It's been a very interesting challenge in the last eight years.
Does the future of the band seem more uncertain now, with everything that's happened in the last year?
The older you get, the more you think, "How many more years can I get on a tour bus and do this?" I think once you get over 50 years old, you realize that you're a long way past the halfway point in life. And I think your perspective on life changes. You're trying to pace yourself and prioritizing things that matter to you, rather than just doing anything that gets offered. And I think you start to look more philosophically at life and the things you want to do and the things you don't want to do and try to steer your direction a bit more. I don't feel uncertain about my future. But as I said, I don't know how much longer King Crimson will keep going. Will this year be the last year? I just don't know.