It was during Spring Break of 2002, and something strange had happened to me. I was only 17 years old when my Mom drove me for an evening run to Soundwaves in the Montrose area here in Houston. I was in my Sophmore year in High School when I came across this incredible set of a King Crimson live album entitled, Epitaph.
Now unfortunately many years later I worn it out not just because of the incredible, yet intensive performances they gave from their sessions they did for John Peel’s Top Gear, but the performances at the Fillmore East and West between November 21st and in December of 1969 with the original line-up.
Now released last year in an eco-wallet design, it brought back so many memories revisiting some of those moments with Robert Fripp, Greg Lake, Michael Giles, Ian McDonald, and Peter Sinfield on my little boombox 17 years ago and revisiting the volumes one and two for their incredible virtuosity. 50 years later, despite the sound quality whether it’s an A or a B recording, it still sounds fresh.
Not to mention the album cover design of The Four Seasons by P.J. Crook. Her artwork that is evidential on the latter King Crimson’s albums, is quite staggering. It’s almost the passage of time set in this Victorian-era in the late 1890s and Crook captures that moment of what once was, is now gone. But let’s get into Volumes One and Two of the 2-CD set, Epitaph.
Now by this time period, King Crimson released their debut album on October 10, 1969, In The Court of the Crimson King after performing their breakout performance by opening up for the Rolling Stones on July 5th at Hyde Park featuring the Third Ear Band, Family, and Alexis Korner’s New Church to name a few. And word of mouth started to spread about this band including Pete Townshend of The Who, describing their debut, “An Uncanny Masterpiece.”
You have this flaming fire version of 21st Century Schizoid Man at the Fillmore East where the band were on fire to an audience were in for a treat to hear this band kicking into full gear as if a cannon went off unexpectedly at the right moment at the right time. Then there’s the mournful composition of Epitaph at the same venue where Ian’s Mellotron, Greg’s bass, and Robert’s sadness that he brings throughout, the song tackles the subject of the dangers of war that is about to come.
Greg’s vocals fill the halls of the Fillmore East as he sings “But I fear tomorrow/I’ll be crying/Yes I fear tomorrow/I’ll be crying/Yes I fear tomorrow/I’ll be crying!” You almost couldn’t turn off the first disc, because it is simply beautiful of what Lake has brought to this track. The jazzier smoky sounds from Ian’s sax and Greg’s bass of an old song that Giles, Giles, and Fripp did during their recording sessions for The Brondesbury Tapes, sees King Crimson going into the towns of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis from the ‘50s of Drop In recorded at the Fillmore West on the second disc.
Their take from the BBC Session of Donovan’s Get Thy Bearings, despite the quality of the sound, takes it up a notch than the version I heard from the Plumpton live recording back in 2000 on the fourth disc of the 1992 box set, Frame by Frame: The Essential King Crimson. Ian’s sax goes through various corners while Greg’s walking bass line sets up the night before climbing those ladders to reach those sections for Ian to tackle the Coltrane sound to honor the master himself and just going all over the place.
Mantra gives Fripp, Giles, and McDonald to take this middle-eastern minor section throughout the chords of finding the signs of peace from the first disc with some incredible relaxations from their previous tracks on disc one. But it’s both A Man, A City (which was one of the early basis for Pictures of a City from their 1970 follow-up, In The Wake of Poseidon) and Mars that gives Crimson a chance to go into mass madness.
Fripp describes to the audience on the first disc about the song describes the city of New York City and dedicated to the Big Apple as Lake sings in the style of Schizoid Man structure but with some heavier grooves, insane time signatures, calm before the storm, and then back into the action once more. But when you get to Mars, this is where King Crimson brings all of their energy out into the audience.
From the seven movements of The Planets suite by Gustav Holst, Crimson go into this brutal nightmarish atmosphere on the Fillmore West performance. With the view of the red planet of its militant march between Guitar, Bass, Drums, and Mellotron, it turns into a chaotic frenzy near the end as the audience erupts into cheers that can really make your skin crawl and the audience chanting for Crimson to do another encore.
Epitaph really brought back memories for me as a Teenager. And now listening to this again, I can imagine what unearthed material that is going to be delved into the 50th anniversary box set of their groundbreaking debut album for its own limited edition that's coming out this October. And as Robert Fripp would always say, “King Crimson has a way of doing things.” Well, they do. And for them, there’s not a single stop sign for them.