Adrian Belew on the future of King Crimson: Robert Fripp 'may never want to do it again'

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Adrian Belew’s just-completed tour with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto presented an opportunity to revisit their time in King Crimson. Unfortunately, Belew says, partial reunions are all that fans are likely to see for the foreseeable future.

Those joint concert dates, which saw the Adrian Belew Power Trio headlining a combined bill with Levin’s Stick Men, were highlighted by a King Crimson-focused encore that saw Belew, Levin and Mastelotto making rare appearances together on stage. They then expanded into a facsimile of Crimson’s 1990s-era double-trio format, with the addition of bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph from Belew’s band and touch guitarist Markus Reuter from the Stick Men.

Belew told us that he feels that they’re still just scratching the surface of those Robert Fripp-led six-piece experiments, almost two decades after the group issued Thrak. In a new SER Sitdown, Belew also talks about the difficulties in relearning Crimson’s complicated catalog and the suddenly murky future of a band that’s been around since the 1960s, but hasn’t issued a new studio recording since 2003’s Power to Believe

NICK DERISO: Last year, you took to the road again in a double-trio format with your old King Crimson mate Tony Levin. In the past, you’ve said that you never really felt like the concept was properly explored during the experiments Crimson made with that format in the 1990s. Did you feel like you finally got to the bottom of that double-trio idea out on the road with Levin?
ADRIAN BELEW: I wish I could say that. I don’t think we’d ever get to the bottom of it, and really start fleshing it out to the degree that I’d hoped for, unless we were to do brand-new music with it. Just going back and doing the music we’ve already done with it really didn’t change what it is. My idea was that we could have gotten more out of the double-trio idea by utilizing different trios in different places within the same piece of music. We still didn’t get to do that on this tour. What we did get a chance to do, however, was go back and take a fresh look at all of this material — most of which had not been played since the 1990s, because that was the only time we had the six-piece band.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Adrian Belew talks about his brilliant orchestral reimaging of ‘e,’ a life-long fascination with sound and attending the Frank Zappa School of Rock.]

NICK DERISO: What was the reaction, nearly 20 years later?
ADRIAN BELEW: I think we were able to give the audience a new appreciation for it. The whole idea was to go out and celebrate this music, even though there is no official King Crimson doing this. You know, can we take the guys who are still out there playing this music and go together and give it to the audience — even without (Crimson founder) Robert (Fripp)? Though, with his blessing, of course. And that’s what we did, and I thought it was wonderful. The thing about it was, most of the material was based more on my input rather than say Robert’s, because that’s just the way it had to be. You can’t really do the Robert-based material well without him, of course. So we stuck to things that we felt were more in my part of the band, songs like “Dinosaur.” We did do “Thrak,” which is really a Robert piece and, even without Robert, I thought it came off really, really well. There was quite a lot of joy in doing it. It was fun. Each trio got their own turn in the spotlight too, and that was nice.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Tony Levin goes in-depth on his trio project with David Torn and Alan White, discusses performing on John Lennon’s final sessions and contemplates the future for King Crimson.]

NICK DERISO: Were there new things to be learned from the songs, after so long away?
ADRIAN BELEW: There was definitely that, especially when we had to work them out. I remember there were quite a few moments where Tony and I were scratching our heads together, saying: “Who played that? And what is that?” (Laughs.) But I actually knew my parts pretty well, because we had done some touring only a year or so earlier with the five-piece version of Crimson, with Gavin Harrison and Pat on drums. So I kind of remembered my parts, but there were some question marks about some of the rest of it. We just listened to the records, and figured it out.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew goes in-depth on King Crimson’s ‘Thrak,’ a key track from ‘e,’ the solo novelty hit “Oh Daddy” and his underrated work with the Bears.]

NICK DERISO: Any sense of nostalgia? Did it get you to thinking maybe you should call Robert up and put this thing back together?
ADRIAN BELEW: No, not really. (Laughs.) Because I already know where Robert’s at in his thinking. He’s made it pretty clear to me, in conversations that we’ve had over the last year, that it’s just not something he’s ready to do — or wanting to do — at this point. He may never want to do it again. So, all I did was try to support him in that, saying: “When you do want to do something, let us know. And if you want to do it with us, we’ll go for it.” I think what the touring with the double trio did for me and, especially playing with Pat and Tony for the first time, was it kind of gave me a new appreciation of just how timeless that material can be — and really that it’s its own thing. There’s really nothing much like it. We own that little tiny piece of real estate. And I’m really proud of it.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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