Arrived here in Marseille for just one concert - an unusual situation for us. But it’s wonderful staying near the harbor. I took a few pictures, of course.
Over at the venue - a kind of needy soundcheck for me. I asked Russel to fix my in-ears
and Michele to repair a hard drive connection for me
I think the guys were happy to have something to fix. At this point of the tour they have all the gear working perfectly.
This diary entry being only of one show, and with a paucity of pictures (and an absence of anecdotes), I feel the need to present more to you the reader, so here is a small essay of my thoughts on Robert’s advice to me, and us in the band, “when in doubt, play C#.”
First, the origin; (this is my opinion only, Robert might have a very different recollection.) In the 90’s we used to play a piece called Vrooom Vrooom - a complex little beast, like a lot of the Crimson music. But I was quite up to doing the bass part. Yes, in the rabbit’s warren of my brain I could follow all the twists and hairpin turns of it - the surprises and re-written sections - all there for me every night in concert. Except for one small thing - my first note. I could transpose it into any starting key, so there wasn’t only one inner way to start. And when the theme repeats later in the piece, it’s in a different key… matching other pieces we do where themes come back in different keys… all those starting notes swimming in murky depths at the bottom of my brain’s musical pond… leaving the clearer waters above free for, hopefully, flashes of innovation and improvisation.
Or, to put it more simply, I came in wrong a lot!
Vrooom Vrooom begins on the note C#. And, let’s be fair - often I played C#. But some nights I would steam in with an E. Or Bb. So, we made provisions: I wrote down a big “C#” on my setlist. But… long tour, I often didn’t remember to look at the setlist, I just knew what was coming (though maybe not my starting note.) Robert, as usual, aware of the overall picture in addition to his part, would try to signal me the note - not the easiest note to hand signal or even to mouth. So it became, shall we say, a point of awareness between us.
Anway, that is the Levin version of why Robert, years later, at the start of this lineup of Crimson, advised us all, as a general principal to go for C# when in doubt.
Interestingly, we don’t perform Vrooom Vrooom, so one might question whether anyone should follow that advice. So I have questioned it - I have thought it over a lot, and, for me, it’s not such bad advice.
Here’s my reasoning: Let’s say the piece starts in A, and desires an A from the bass. If I blast a low C#, well that’s playing the line a major third up, but from underneath… a twist on a respected tradition in this band. We have numerous lines that are in parallel major thirds. It’d be sure to get the attention of the whole band, but no real disapproval. Some might even think I meant it. (Robert probably knowing better.)
Now if the piece should start with an E, and I’m a major 6th above that.. well, that’s not so pretty - I’ll have the band’s attention all right, they’re trying not to stare at me onstage… I’m likely to turn to glare at whoever is next to me (poor Mel, maybe tuning up with his flute) with a look that says, “how could you make an error like that?”. That’ll fool some people… it would have fooled my mother… “Tony, are you sure you want to stand next to that nice man playing the wrong notes on his flute?”
There’s a good chance the first note should be G. In this case, darn, there will be no explaining to the guys aftershow that “well, I wasn’t too far off”, since you can’t really get further away from G than C#. But, hey, this isn’t pop music, it’s progressive - so occasionally throwing in “the devil’s interval” is, well, appropriate, is it not?
Now things get sticky… the piece might be in C or in D, in which case, let’s face it, taking that advice was a very bad idea. All the confidence in the world will not carry my C# past security to the gate.. the musical TSA will take a second look at my tattered passport and escort me to a private room for a close inspection of the third kind… the band will glare at me with that “don’t call us, we’ll call you” look, and nobody, not even my dear departed mother, will believe that the mistake came from Mel’s flute.
So, okay, when in doubt, play C#… it’s got some risk involved. But King Crimson is not a band that avoids risks, is it. So I like the advice. And it’s especially juicy because the band, without Vrooom Vrooom in the set, doesn’t do one piece where I begin with C#.
There you have it, possibly one of the longest diary entries ever composed about one note.
Back to the show:
Onward to Vienna next. Two concerts, and, I promise, no essays!