What’s more exciting than the onslaught of King Crimson merchandise, including the 27-CD “Starless” box set? The 3CD Fripp & Eno live performance in Paris on May 28, 1975. Live in Paris 28.05.1975 is a study in contradictions. Soothing and terrifying, smooth and rough around the edges.
One can’t review a live performance consisting of the material from Fripp & Eno’s first two albums, No Pussyfooting (1972) and Evening Star (1975) without first becoming conversant with those albums. Both of these albums consist of audio tape being run through two loops, each controlled by Eno, while Fripp plays guitar both onto the tape as Eno is manipulating it, as well as “live.” No Pussyfooting comes on like a mental massage if you’re wearing headphones, with its lead in track, “The Heavenly Music Corporation.” Eventually, Fripp forgoes using his and Eno’s effects to make his guitar experimentation sound pretty, and rips into some deliciously evil sounds. The other side of the original No Pussyfooting album is a track titled “Swastika Girls,” which is somewhat off-putting due to Eno’s over-use of found sounds to add to his tape loop. It’s as if he didn’t have enough faith in the process to leave well enough alone.
No Pussyfooting was a milestone for both members of the duo: it sent Eno on his lifelong trip of making ambient music, and, although, Fripp held onto King Crimson for several more years, he learned that he could function musically as a “small, intelligent, mobile unit.” Many of the critics loved No Pussyfooting when it came out; “discerning” listeners, and King Crimson fans especially, hated it. “The Heavenly Music Corporation” was used as “walk on” music during King Crimson’s later tours; by many accounts, the band, sans Fripp, hated it. (You can hear it on the beginning of the live Crimson album USA.)
There is a commitment in listening. It’s Fripp without a floor; that is to say, there’s no band to underpin his diabolical shreds and riffs. Just Eno with his sonic clouds and mirrors. In 1975, the year that this live recording took place, Fripp and Eno’s second album was released. It consisted of shorter songs, and a somewhat gentler tone – the loop felt more like a wash of sound.
The live album, out now in November, throws much of what we know about Fripp and Eno on its ear. The softness of the tunes performed from Evening Star are made into wholly different pieces of music, due to Fripp’s particularly abrasive guitar playing, matched by Eno’s savage tape manipulation, and his interesting looped found spoken word samples. Much of the first two albums are represented here, but the meat of the show is the improvisational pieces such as “A Fearful Proper Din,” and “A Darn Psi Inferno.”
If you loved the first two Fripp and Eno albums, you owe it to yourself to check this set out. If they left you wanting more King Crimson – more Fripp – I’d venture to say that Fripp is as engaging, enthralling, and terrifying here as he is with any Crimson album. Perhaps more so, because there’s nobody else there onstage to soften the brunt. Just Eno, and he only takes the brunt and amplifies it. Essential listening no matter how one feels about Fripp and Eno. This is live, warts and all, with no studio time to smooth out the rough spots.