Precious few live documents have survived of King Crimson's incipient incarnation, featuring Robert Fripp (guitar), Michael Giles (drums/percussion/vocals), Greg Lake (bass/vocals), Ian McDonald (flute/sax/Mellotron/vocals), and Peter Sinfield (lyrics). Live at Fillmore East, 1969 (2004) -- the 25th installment in King Crimson's Collectors' Club -- is especially important, as even fewer had been captured in this quality. In terms of the band's public life, this quintet barely lasted 12 months from their earliest rehearsals circa mid-January 1969 through to December of the same year. As the song list bears out, they stick closely to the same approximately 40-minute repertoire on both November 21 and 22, when they shared the bill with Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, and the Voices of East Harlem choir. Three-quarters of the material is gleaned from their debut LP, In the Court of the Crimson King, with the exception of "A Man a City," which would be retitled "Pictures of a City" when it resurfaced as the lead track for the second King Crimson long-player, In the Wake of Poseidon (1970). As the packaging clearly states, neither set is tip-to-tail complete. Tapes from both nights commence at roughly the same place, McDonald's lilting flute interlude during the opening number, "In the Court of the Crimson King." Sharp-eyed and keen-eared enthusiasts will undoubtedly recall that "A Man a City," "Epitaph," and "21st Century Schizoid Man," from November 21, were included on the Epitaph, Vols. 1-2 (1997) two-disc box set. However, Live at Fillmore East, 1969 marks the first time that any music from the following evening has been available. While each of the combos collected under the King Crimson moniker has contributed considerably to the legacy, there remains an obvious vitality and purity of spirit that would inform this particular aggregate. A perfect example can be extracted from the subtly significant distinctions in the timbre and mood within the respective renderings of the ethereal "Epitaph." The latter has darker and palpably edgier attributes that are driven home with incisive precision arguably lacking in its counterpart. While that example is among the more evident, others exist. As alluded to above, the fidelity, while far from perfect, is an obvious upgrade from a majority of the concert recordings circulating from this era.
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer