OFF THE RECORD: FRIPP/SYLVIAN CAUGHT LIVE, BUT WITHOUT DAMAGE!

This is what you want if you want to hear some alternate versions of Sylvian/Fripp songs from the live CD ‘Damage’.

Robert Fripp and David Sylvian collaborated in the 2000’s to bring us two albums, The First Day, and the follow-up live disc Damage. Those are the two commercial releases that the combo put out. However, we have our hands on an off-market release called “Live From Massey Hall” from our supplier of all things off-market, Live Gig Recordings (look for their link later on in this review).

The history between Fripp and Sylvian initially didn’t progress as Fripp would have liked. At that point Fripp had asked Sylvian to join another (double-trio, six person) version of King Crimson (it appears as though he’d been seeking to usurp Adrian Belew from his long-standing role as lead vocalist and front person for King Crimson for a long time, only having done so within the past couple of years, filling his shoes is Jakko Jaoidsgfilsuxghfp). Sylvian already had a reputation as his own artist and felt he would only be able to collaborate so far under the Crimso moniker. So they settled for a remarkable collaboration that resulted in one of the most catchy prog songs ever recorded (“Jean The Birdman”, with a close second to “God’s Monkey”). We’ll delve into those songs when we get there.

First, I have something to say about the removal of Adrian Belew from King Crimson. Belew claims to be good with it, Fripp claims his status is the honorary 9th member of the new, eight member, three drummer configuration of King Crimson, as Tony Levin was during the Trey Gunn years in the early 2000’s. Belew is not idle by any means. His power trio just played the Irridium in NYC , and he is part of the David Bowie tribute act that is casually touring the world. I do see Fripp’s point about Belew as the front person. The fact is, he was too cheery, too happy in demeanor for the usually dower music that is/was King Crimson.

Returning to this project, the album’s cover photo for The First Day shows Sylvian AND Fripp having ridiculous, laughing smiles on their faces. No issue, they had a positive working relationship. Fripp has one with Brian Eno too, I don’t see them touring No Pussyfooting, or Evening Star, or Equatorial Stars, or Cotswald Gnomes, or…

A rare sight for the period. Robert Fripp laughing in a photograph.

Sylvian remains a solo artist. A fascinating one at that. Someone I hope to get more familiar with in terms of his work, straight away! Fripp is lumbering about with King Crimson. Two guitarists, a bassist/stick player, a keyboardist, a wind player, and three drummers. The samples I have heard from one of their many live performances sounded stiff, uniform and stilted.

I still contend Fripp is losing the plot…

For this tour, Fripp included stick player Trey Gunn and drummer Pat Mastellotto, as well as Sylvian on keys and guitar and vocals and includes another solo artist, Michael Brook playing something he calls infinite guitar. Let’s see if this performance can hold up against the commercial capture of the tour, Damage. This particular specimen is from Massey Hall in Toronto from November 1st, 1993.

The disk has several bonuses. The first is an “Introduction and Interview”. It mostly talks about how the performance will be more like a live recording than a live performance as their will be little discussion between tracks, and there will be no tacky, inflated rock stage antics like pyrotechnics, etc. (Great  White could have used this discipline earlier in their career, never set off pyrotechnics in a low ceiling venue that has acoustic tiles in it.) Here it is the opener. Way to switch things up. It consists of Sylvian playing piano and singing with Fripp adding Soundscape tones intermittently as the lyrics would allow. Gunn adds some random bass tones towards the second half of the song. Some of the vocals crack with volume. As I said before and will say again. These are the charms of live performances. As the song fades the crowd then applauds. The radio announcer reminds us who this is.

Then the radio announcer breaks in and announces the credits for the radio show (CBC’s ‘Hot Ticket’). A fade to silence.

“Jean The Birdman” from The First Day is one of the catchiest things they’ve done, Listen to it once, it will be with you all day. And then some. The story is about a fugitive who has the power to fly and uses it to escape, well, whatever he has to. Mastellotto’s snare drum marches the song forward to Sylvian’s lyric. Fripp’s guitar is uncharacteristically clean. Right through the carousel-sounding break. Gunn holds the low end modestly into a break down featuring Fripp and Brook cascading notes all over the place, but that leads to a super tight note sequence into the next verse. The third verse gets out of hand with multiple guitar notes taking over the space. Into that carousel break to a 7th-type chord ending.

“Firepower” from The First Day is a fascinating track. Using Fripp’s technique of looping (see Frippertronics) the vocal spelling out the title to the song. We’ll see this more during “Exposure”. Sylvian’s vocal has a high-pass filter on it. It’s all mid and low range. Makes the vocal sound dirtier than it is on the record.

Into one of Fripp’s trademark sustain solos. Gawd I love this shit I may move to England!!! That solo devolves into the chorus vocal but not before Fripp flexes his note speed all over the neck and we don’t go back into a verse, but more note battles between Fripp and Brook, with Sylvian playing chords over it. Someone whistles and there is minor applause during a rest. Frippertronics kick in over the lumbering rhythm track. Fripp pulls back to Soundscapes while Sylvian pops chords and notes on an electric piano type sound. Then another Fripp sustain into frantic notes solo. I can’t get enough, so the more solos the better. I love Sylvian’s deep, rich voice. I would probably still be a King Crimson fan if Sylvian did take Belew’s place. But I can’t bring myself to deal with Jakko Jack-in-the-box. during the solo, you start the hear the loop, F-I-R-E-P-O-W-E-R… Timidly behind the band until the end breakdown.

Then another “Interview”. Sylvian discusses Fripp’s return to music as well as his own reaffirmation to music.

Chorused electric piano intros “Damage”, oddly enough the title track to the live album. Just synth and Sylvians purposeful vocal vibrato dominates the lyric. A remorseful tune, you can’t go back home in a way, earthbound, star-blind, tied to minor keys. Gunn (a highly capable stick player who prefers the Warr Guitar to the Chapman Stick) gets a minor solo, and as the second verse ends, Fripp punctuates ‘I only want to be loved’ with guitar peeps. Soundscape notes accompany another Warr solo. We end on a piano minor chord. The damage is done.

Yet another “Station Call” or station ID. I don’t know how it is in Canada, but here in the US (before cable entered into the field) it is an F.C.C. requirement that all broadcasters identify themselves no less than every fifteen minutes within one or two minutes of the hour, the quarter hour, the half hour and the three quarters of an hour. Next time you are listening to (terrestrial radio, if such a thing still exists) a station, have a clock handy and see if they don’t announce their call letters every 15 minutes or so. You’ll see either I am right or the F.C.C. doesn’t care about that dying media.

The Robert Fripp title track from his solo album Exposure. The intro hammer-on loop and the voice saying ‘It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering’ which was originally stated by J.G. Bennett of the Sherbourne House. This time it is a female speaking the line. Mastellotto does a great job with the beat, the true test will be how does a Warr guitar sound compared to a Music Man bass? The original album part was played by Levin on the Music Man, and he has such control over the sound of the bass, it seems like his thumb on the string has much more impact than the average player. And his use of bass vibrato MADE this track bounce to life. Gunn actually runs away with it and makes it his own! All Sylvian has to do is sing the lines, and he also makes this track his own. It was once sung by Peter Gabriel on his album (one of the Peter Gabriel picture is the album title albums) and on the actual album Exposure, it was sung by Terre Roche of the sister group The Roches.

J.G. Bennett is represented here with other spoken phrases, such as ‘if we use our creativity for ourselves, it will destroy us’.

WOW!

Makes me think I’ve gone astray in my own musical career.

But Bennett has also delivered powerful lines such as the one I live my life by: ‘If you know you have an unpleasant nature, and dislike people, this is no obstacle to work”. That went over big with most of my employers. Now you know why I work for myself…

A hackneyed edit brings us to the (to use a word Fripp loves a lot) fractured tune, “Gone To Earth”, another title track. Fripp’s flanged/phased guitar intros the staccato-laced tune until the chorus end comes around. Some fresh chords are introduced to the tune. We stop and divert into another break with very loudly mixed statements from J.G. Bennett (played by Gunn through some convoluted sampling device in his rig). The song breaks down to Frippertronics only with some help from Brook and Gunn. Then a totally out of key chord slaps us into  “20th Century Dreaming” from The First Day.

The stunted riff churns the song through the dire lyrics. Even though the last line of the chorus is ‘I’m moving to the house of love’ the music puts you on the defensive at that point. Things are sustaining, the rhythm track is lumbering on to a hold note, back into the verse’s choppy structure. I’ve been earwigged by this one before. As Fripp distorts and fades a note out, Gunn and Mastellotto keep the rhythm pumping. Mastellotto isn’t afraid to play in and around the beats in the measure. 4/4 is a bore… In fact, he plays around it so much, that during the later half of the breakdown, he manages a discreet drum solo. But that bliss is interrupted by a glitch in the disc (most likely the broadcast). The only instrument left holding the original phrase is the Warr guitar. Fripp’s space guitar holds court while Sylvian vocal adlibs.

While this may sound like there are a million guitarists on this track, remember, Fripp has the capacity to layer notes over notes and build up on the sound-for-sound resounding into your brain you can never run away he chuffing like a train (to paraphrase Killing Joke). Mastellotto picks up on some accent notes with Gunn and things purposefully fall apart with Fripp’s buzzsaw guitar leading the way.

“Wave” also from Gone To Earth has a more pop sensibility and potential, that is until Fripp puts his mark on it. Mastellotto’s snare sounds like he dropped the snares down. Fripp solos for the intro, and Sylvian plays a tremoloed guitar. It has a fairly standard arrangement. This was done outside the collaboration between Fripp and Sylvian, which may account for it’s commercial appeal.

In this context, wave represents the summer season. In between solos by Fripp. Ridiculous, make you wanna quit playing guitar solos.

Sylvian is more concerned with the emotion of the song. The backing track is calm, cool and collected. The same can’t be said for Fripp’s solos. We fall to a drum beat that rebuilds the song into (yet again) another Fripp solo with Brook or Sylvian adding chord chops to the track.

This “Interview” The has Sylvian discussing his future outlook. Then some gentle strains of music bleed into the interview. There is some tape wobble in the ambient intro “The First Day”, which is ironically the title track to the first Fripp/Sylvian album that doesn’t appear on the album! But this is a stunning version. This was the closing song on Damage. It makes it seem like we are coming to a sad close. Of all of Fripp’s collaborations, this is one of my favorites. so I know I hate to see it end. If you venture to buy this, you will be sorry to hear it end as well. But you can always hit that play button again.

Don’t discourage me…

Fripp’s distorted note ends the track to the most raucous applause. Another “Station Call” then they return to rock out!

The rhythm section is full out for “Blinding Light Of Heaven”, from a compilation album called Everything And Nothing. The song is raucous but reasonably sedate until the first Fripp solo. Subject matter? Woman troubles. Again, Sylvian’s vocal mic is a touch muddy. That’s a live sound fault. The track gets even more raucous for the second Fripp solo where Fripp deals in obscure scales, diminished, minor scales, scales of all kinds. The real action is Gunn’s bass (Warr) line. But once the track ends, a midrange feedback from the mic takes over.

“Band Introduction” is exactly that. Sylvian introduces the band as they are done for the night.

And what do you know? They ARE done. damn! “Closing” is the end credit of the show. A nice fade out and the disc is done. But I am not done with this disc, it will become one of my favorites, warts and all. Again, this is bootleg territory we’re in. There is no chance to go back and edit that part that didn’t sound right, it’s all on the fly.

I am grateful to have this. You can be grateful too, all you have to do is head on over to the Live Gig Recordings site (https://livegigrecordings.weebly.com/) and get your own! But I have to warn you, you could very well go broke on the selection there. They have stuff for damn near everybody (OK, you aren’t going to get Justin Beiber shit, but who wants that?) so you will most likely find something there for you!

On one last humorous note, the disc sports the Decca label. So it’s a fun tribute as well! We’ll have more from Live Gig Recordings, including a very special throwback to a show I covered last year. I covered three shows so that should give you a real good tip as to where I am headed next on Off The Record! Or you can cheat and head over the BouleBlog the Facebook group and see what that cover photo is and that will let you know. But before that disc arrives, we have a couple of unusual titles in the stack (which is getting shorter and shorter, I’ll have to place a Live Gigs order!) so be sure you check back for those.

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