King Crimson

Live at Plymouth, 1971

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This two-CD set from the King Crimson Collectors' Club is not the place to start listening to the band, but serious fans should give it a close look. Drawn from the Robert Fripp/Ian Wallace/Mel Collins/Boz Burrell lineup's very first engagement in England on May 11, 1971, the show presents the band working the bugs out of its sound, and there are defects, including a modest amount of distortion on particular passages, though nothing outrageous, and a combination of balance problems, slight bleeds, and glaring dynamic shifts in the early tracks. And, yes, this version of the band would later become a lot smoother in its approach to improvisation. But the music here, a mix of middle ("Cirkus") and early ("Court of the Crimson King") repertory, and an early, extended version of "Sailor's Tale" that is just about worth the price of this set by itself, is without any equivalent in the rest of the group's catalog. And if one can overlook the momentary flaws in the sound and the occasional intrusion of the VCS3 synthesizer as a conduit for the voice, sax, and drums, there are performances here that are more driven and intense than much of what is on the Lizard and Islands albums. The rather structureless "Get Thy Bearings" (for which an audience tape had to be used to replace part of a missing master) may be a little too much to take as a pure audio document, as is the case with "Mars," the group's adaptation of one portion of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" (titled "The Devil's Triangle"), but virtually everything else is of serious interest. Fans of Ian Wallace and Mel Collins, in particular, will want to check out what's on this set, and the bass playing may force one to reassess their opinion of Boz Burrell as well.

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