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Review of Sylvian-Fripp's show in Sittard, The Netherlands

Date Submitted: 21-Nov-93
Submitted By: Eric Roos (E.Roos at buro dot kun dot nl) and Willem Hurkmans

After a one-hour rail journey and a two-hour car drive we arrived at the intimate theatre of Sittard just a few minutes after 2000 of November 20. A very cautious audience which included a large proportion of Belgians and Germans [Sittard is close to both these countries] was carefully worming its way through the aisles accompanied by what I assume was the first instrumental played by Michael Brook. Initially at least this sounded like Frippertronics. This impression quickly changed as we listened to the next songs, which I can only describe as ethereal guitar to a background of intricate 'ethnic' rhythms (e.g. 5/16 + 11/16, changing into 6/8) you usually get from the Balkans or Africa. His choice of effects was never overwhelming and I found it tasteful throughout. Two of the last songs. ERR and Cora, were really quite psychedelic in their interplay of Brook with his own delayed echoes - I presume he has a timelagged distortion programme which is triggered by his pressing foot pedals (If someone has some info on how this works I' d be grateful to hear so).

Throughout his performance, people kept coming in, but they were very cautious not to upset Mr Brook, they were very well-behaved and generally, paid due interest to Mr Brook's playing. After finishing his set which lasted until 2040 Mr Brook rightfully was given a standing ovation. I want to emphasize that, contrary to what Joe McGlinchey found (Discipline 114) it is a privilege to 'sit through over half an hour's worth of ambient guitar', especially when performed at this high level of quality! People wanting to tell Brook [or any musician, for that matter] to shut up, should themselves have the decency to leave [or be kicked out]. Mr Brook really was outstanding! If what Malcolm [Discipline 114] says about Brook's performance being even better in the studio is true, this is definitely something worth looking for.

After the break which I found occurred too soon and lasted too long, all was set for the main event, starting at 2100. David Sylvian, Robert Fripp and Trey Gunn were soon recognized by us, but I couldn't be sure of the second guitarist (who at times appeared to be playing from sheet music) and the drummer (if it's correct that this is not Jerry Marrotta). They kicked off with God's Monkey, after which they played all songs from The First Day except Bringing down the Light. Interspersed were some Sylvian songs I didn't know, and Exposure from the album of the same name. Contrary to what I read in some other reviews, I did not find the sound too loud; instead it was well-adjusted, and Fripp's soloing was decently mixed in.

In their rendition of 'Firepower', the sound was reminiscent of old Crimso days (comparable to the two Amstedam concerts of 1973): tight, organized and concentrated. The way 'Darshan' was played was even more stunning: nine minutes of fireworks with a brilliantly soloing Fripp at the nucleus, and pseudo- classical Fripp/Gunn duels in the bargain. The other songs, especially 'Jean the Birdman' and '20th Century dreaming' were 'just plain' superb - I guess this reflects the pleasure had by the players (and us!) The audience really went out of their minds after the set and were yelling & whistling their heads off, rightly so. Sylvian & Fripp were peering round, surveying the degree of enthusiasm I suppose. They decided on two encores, of which the first one was dreamily beautiful, the second one rather heavy rock. The show lasted until 2230.

Judging the whole show I found Fripp brilliant - he displayed his mastery over a very wide range of guitar techniques and sounds, from the most refined to that of mad Orks burning down the house. He played a dark Gibson Les Paul model. Sylvian was doing fairly, but excellently empathic in 'Darshan'. Gunn was hard to judge - he sounded OK and his sound certainly makes a great difference, but we have not much to compare with. The extra guitarist appeared to make no conspicuous contribution, but I suppose (and hope) this impression will be a false one. The drummer was generally very tight and assertive, though he played generally a little too straightforward, somewhat too loud and too much like a Hard Rock man. He did show what he's capable of, though, in two nice solos - one in Firepower I think, the other in one of Sylvian's pieces. On the whole it was a great show, the sound level was just right - it was adjusted to the surroundings, the audience were great, and got their deserts! The only thing I began to wonder about, afterward, is this: Fripp seemed to be happy to 'use' David Sylvian as the 'spotlight kid'; he himself certainly wasn't subject to 'exposure' during the show; the focus was on Sylvian throughout. [If I recollect right, the same was the case at most of the Crimso concerts I attended]. My guess is that Fripp is quite happy with the situation - the band apparently have a good time playing and respond well to the eagerness of the audience. I really wonder if Fripp is, at heart, interested in resurrecting King Crimson, since he might well prefer going on the way he is and play in the RFSQ as a sideline. Mr Fripp, if you read this, be sure of our thanks & appreciation for your work. At any rate, keep going like this with your SF tour and Bob's yer Uncle!

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