Electrifying Guitar and Voice Transport Concertgoers
King Crimson and Seal return to the road for their new albums in two separate tours that hit N.Y.C. last week
NEW YORK — KING CRIMSON
At Town Hall.
In its more than 25-year history, the art-rock group King Crimson has gone through many personnel changes and shifts in direction, but two things have remained constant: guitarist Robert Fripp and an ever-exploratory attitude toward music.
The group disbanded after the last album and tour 10 years ago, but it's back with a new album, "Thrak" (Virgin), and yet another lineup, taking the form of a double trio. It includes Fripp (on guitar), Adrian Belew (guitar), Tony Levin (basses), Trey Gunn (stick), and Pat Mastelotto and Bill Bruford (percussion).
Playing two sold-out shows recently in New York, they were greeted with rapturous devotion by their longtime fans.
"I'm a dinosaur, somebody is digging my bones," sings Belew on one track of the new album, but the re-formation of this classic band is no mere addition to the collection of dinosaur rock bands that have taken to the road.
"Thrak" contains some of the most challenging yet accessible music ever, a complex blending of rock, free jazz, and other forms that display the players' instrumental virtuosity in full glory.
Although the band's penchant for somewhat elliptical lyrics has not changed, the music has a restless pulse that is reminiscent of their past work, while expanding on it.
In concert, the group managed to admirably re-create the dense sound of its recordings, where overdubbing can produce the sounds of literally hundreds of guitars.
Fripp and Belew are two of rock's greatest guitarists ever, and with Levin and Gunn playing the stick (a sort of combination of guitar and bass), the sonic texture was transporting. The group's energy on the Town Hall stage created the illusion of hundreds of instruments.
Mixing new songs from "Thrak" with classics from their repertoire, such as "Elephant Talk" and "Frame by Frame" (the title of their essential box-set compilation), the band members, who are not exactly Young Turks anymore (Fripp is 50), played with a revelry that would put most teenagers to shame.
At the Paramount.
The most distinctive aspect of British singer Seal, after his superb songwriting and vocal skills, is his sheer physical presence. Standing at 6-feet-4 inches tall, the singer's powerful body, shining bald head, and severely scarred cheeks make for a vivid impression. Bathed in the spotlight and pouring out emotion, he is a nearly iconic presence.
In his two albums on Warner Bros., both self-titled, the singer has blended soul, pop, and funk influences to arresting effect, nearly matching in impact, if not in output, the work of the other one-name wonder, Prince (or whatever he is calling himself these days). His single, "Crazy," was a worldwide smash, with a lyric that summed up the sentiments of young people:
We're never gonna survive/Unless we get a little crazy.
Currently, his new single, "Kiss From a Rose," is riding up the charts, thanks to its inclusion on the "Batman Forever" movie soundtrack.
Seal's music is uncommonly sophisticated in the R&B genre, with much of it being ominous and quietly ruminative. Much of it would not lend itself well to concert presentation, were it not for the singer's powerful aura and intensity.
A two-night stand at New York's Paramount Theatre showed him to be in fine form, performing with a top-notch band whose arrangements showcased his distinctive voice.
Seal is not a showy performer; he rarely resorts to histrionics or energetic stage movement. His only comment during the entire evening was to ask if the audience was having a good time.
He basically just stood there and struck poses while he performed, letting the lighting provide the atmosphere. With music as powerful as his current "Prayer for the Dying," that's all he needs to do.