audio: lossless (ape, cue, log, scans)
size: 429mb (without booklet) time: 1:07'16"
issue: 30th Anniversary Edition (2002)
From ProgressiveRock :
a. In the past few days, I've been going through my live recordings of King Crimson in their 1972-74 period (my favorite and arguably their prime). The trouble is, there are just so many good renditions of so little material that I'm having trouble differentiating between recordings. I mean, "Fracture" as a composition is so ferocious that I don't really need 20 versions of it to find one that kicks my ass - they all do. That said, while most King Crimson fans seem to believe that The Great Deceiver and The Nightwatch together are all the live '72-'74 Crimson anyone needs (and admittedly, that's already 6 discs of material), I'd have to add USA to that list.
The first thing that struck me upon first listen was the sound quality. It's pretty much top-notch, certainly on par with the two releases just mentioned. The other thing I noticed immediately was that, well, these performances are pretty great. One expects nothing less than absolutely shredding performances from these guys, of course, but USA delivers in spades. "Larks' Tongues Part 2" and "21st Century Schizoid Man" are especially intense, and the improv "Asbury Park" pretty much left me speechless with delight. Furthermore, "Exiles" here, particularly Wetton's performance on bass, has become my favorite rendition of that song, surpassing the version from disc 3 of The Great Deceiver.
This long-awaited CD reissue from 2002 was remastered with three bonus tracks added. These aren't duff bonus tracks, either; "Fracture" and "Starless" are nothing to sneeze at, although despite my opening comments, "Fracture" here is not one of my favorite versions. Some fans were disappointed that in the remastering process the decision was made to keep in certain overdubs of Eddie Jobson on violin and piano, but it doesn't bother me any. No, my only complaint with this release is that I think I'm starting to get overloaded with this stuff. There are too many KC live performances that I find so good that I have to call them "essential" - I'm going to have to raise my standards or something before my opinion on these recordings becomes so fanboyish as to be completely worthless.
b. I'll begin by divulging that this was one of the first King Crimson records I owned, lo those decades ago. Next, I'm gonna say that I haven't listened to it since the live CD glut of the '90s. Then, I'm gonna go so far as to say that after listening to all those live recordings since, and then revisiting this one, these are the definitive versions of "Larks Tongues in Aspic part 2" and "Exiles". "Easy Money" also runs a tight contest with one of the versions on the Great Deciever box. Everything in the mix is nearly perfect. Wetton's bass is thick with distortion, the violin and guitar are completely aligned and the tag team and dual mellotron action is astounding. I don't think anything within Great Deceiver touches these. To seal the deal, Bruford is up in the mix and on his game, performing hitherto unknown tricks and spells in the percussion department. Months after I got this and listened to it a zillion times I found Larks Tongues in Aspic, and noted then that the live versions were better. Listening now, with much more to compare to, I'd still say these are the best recordings.
To further the level of necessity for this particular live recording, "Asbury Park" is one of the best improv cuts ever released. Its signature and key might seem trite at first, but the energy reaches several peaks, giving it distinction above a great many of their improvised operations. But wait, there's more...
If you act now (as opposed to the dark days of vinyl or resorting to a cheap Russian CD boot) you can get the USA mini-LP which also features timeless hits like "Fracture" and "Starless". Here again, the mix and recording are so near perfect its hard to resist calling them definitive, but I know I have favorite versions of these elsewhere.
I'll admit its a bit reminiscent and perhaps fanboyish, but finding these re-issues of the original live King Crimson albums reminded me of what awesome albums they are. Its no wonder I've been grabbing every other live recording I've found since, trying to match the initial feeling of hearing this band live. This CD may stand as obligatory to an actual young person's guide to King Crimson, although I'm sure any of us who would take it upon ourselves to compile such a guide would do so differently than any other.
c. The posthumous live effort of the Larks'-era King Crimson, and quite simply, one of the great live album documents to emerge from the 70s. Relative to the other archive releases available from this era of King Crimson's history, I find the sound is best here, probably since this was expected for an imminent release. The American audience, as noted by David Cross in his notes for The Night Watch, is considerably less subdued in their fervor than the Dutch audience of that performance. Aside from these differences, I was struck by how largely consistent the basic execution of each song remained across performances. For example, Bruford's percussive crashes opening up "Larks' Tongues in Aspic pt. 2," Wetton's final "Ooohhh" in "Exiles," and Fripp and Cross handing off the mellotron baton in the final lap of "Exiles."
The material on here, pardon the technical term, kicks major ass. "Asbury Park" is the sound of your internal organs corroding away after drinking a vial of battery acid. When I listen to this level of power and caustic sway, it reinforces my feeling that the Crimson improvs since reforming in the 90s have been sorely lacking. Though my heart will always be with the original studio version, "Exiles" here is transformed into a more muscular animal, with Wetton flashing some wah'd bass and Bruford providing extroverted tempo throughout, even during the formerly arhythmic passage. We also get treated to a completely incendiary version of "21st Century Schizoid Man"; without a doubt the climax of the album, and come to think of it, probably the best live version of the song I've yet heard. All I can think of when listening to this is Terry Gilliam's quote in describing his movie Brazil, the one about 'dragging the audience into the back and beating the shit out of them.'
The only comparatively lesser moment on USA (and even then, by no means bad) is "Easy Money," which starts off strong but gradually trickles downward in momentum after the verses and gets cut off before the song reaches completion. Still, if you can only get one live effort from this line-up, then this classic is the one that gets my vote: remastered now for superb sound, with performances catching all the fire that one of the finest rock groups can dish out.
1. Walk On... No Pussyfooting — 0:35
2. Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part 2 — 6:24
3. Lament — 4:21
4. Exiles — 7:23
5. Asbury Park — 6:53
6. Easy Money — 7:11
7. 21st Century Schizoid Man — 8:10
8. Fracture — 11:19
9. Starless — 14:57
David Cross, violin, keyboards;
Robert Fripp, guitar, mellotron;
John Wetton, bass, vocals;
Bill Bruford, drums, percussion;
with Eddie Jobson, violin, piano
oboom: p1, p2