21st Century Schizoid Band

Pictures of a City: Live in New York

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This double-disc set is comprised of the best parts of the early and late shows from the 21st Century Schizoid Band's April 27, 2004, appearance at B.B. King's in New York. This is a slightly different configuration of the band from the one that debuted in 2002, Ian Wallace having succeeded Michael Giles on drums -- frankly, this reviewer prefers Giles, whose dexterity remains astonishing going into his sixties, but Wallace brings a lot of raw power to the playing, and he and bassist Peter Giles (finally enjoying the international music career he was denied by fate nearly 40 years ago) make a tight rhythm section. As to Ian MacDonald and Mel Collins, the two reed/wind/keyboardmen romp and stomp over the classic material on dual saxes, except where they aim for delicacy as on "Spend Us Three" and "Cadence and Cascade," and lead guitarist/vocalist Jakko Jakszyk proves every bit the perfect successor to Greg Lake, Gordon Haskell, and Boz Burrell on lead vocals. His work, in turn, is enhanced by the presence of several keyboard instruments, far beyond the Mellotron (which is well represented). The sheer range of this band on-stage is sort of a self-fulfilling characteristic, in terms of each member's work being enhanced in these surroundings, and in many ways this set will prove the good-sounding substitute for the historically important but technically lacking Fillmore East recordings by Crimso Mark 1. Some of the tempos are tighter and quicker than the original bands would have played them, especially on "Catfood," but otherwise this is a release that straddles two eras, two audiences, and two purposes, reaching back to the late '60s ("The Court of the Crimson King," "I Talk to the Wind," etc.) and early '70s ("Cirkus," "Formentera Lady," etc.) and bringing the work forward, and adding new material that's also well worth hearing. The band even reaches out to the repertory of the next incarnation of Crimso, performing "Starless" as their finale. The recording is perfectly balanced and so well done that one gets a sense of the ambience. On "Ladies of the Road," for example, the quintet even gets the Beatles-like harmonies on the chorus right, and there's a really cool sax/lead guitar jam, but there's also just enough audience ambience to confirm that there was mostly a guy crowd at B.B. King's that night (no surprise -- this reviewer only ever knew one woman who was interested in King Crimson and that was his college art history teacher who was 45-plus [but very hot] and she was mostly intrigued by "The Night Watch" as a song inspired by Rembrandt, but I digress....). "Catley's Ashes," one of the new numbers, starts out as a punchy reed workout with room for the guitar, bass, and drums to get in some impressive, and it's a lot more than filler -- it's a good enough showcase for the band that it would've made a great track on Islands (better than some that were on the latter) and, appropriately enough, it leads into what were the last two cuts off side one of that album. And it's on that trio of tracks that Giles and Wallace really start to impress this reviewer as much as everyone else here, Wallace weaving these multi-layered patterns and Giles handling the transition from "Catley's Ashes" to "Formentera Lady" and then the band carrying the latter for eight whole minutes without dragging or lagging, with a beautiful solo sax cadenza and lots of new piano ornamentation along with a recapturing of the studio original's haunting falsetto vocal embellishment; all of it leads to the explosive "Sailor's Tale," taken a little briskly but with lots of guitar and Mellotron pyrotechnics (over an awesome bass and drums foundation) to keep the listener busy, to close the first disc on what amounts to practically a sonic white-out. Disc two doesn't disappoint, opening with the oldest song in the group's repertory, "I Talk to the Wind," and closing with the newest of the classic material, "Starless," which makes for an almost overpowering finale after all that's come before.

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