King Crimson – USA [1975/2013, 40th Anniversary Series: Tracklist follows] – Discipline Global Mobile (CD+DVD-audio) KCSP12, CD: 78:31 (2013 mix); DVD: 2013 2.0 PCM stereo mix (24bit/96khz), 2005 2.0 PCM stereo mix (24bit/48khz), 30th Anniversary remaster 2.0 PCM stereo mix (24bit/48khz), original UK vinyl transfer 2.0 PCM stereo mix (24bit/96khz) [12/17/13] ****:
(David Cross – violin, keyboards; Robert Fripp – guitar, mellotron; John Wetton – vocals, bass; William “Bill” Bruford – drums, percussion)
King’s Crimson’s 1975 live album, USA, presented a band in legacy form, no longer active. By the time USA appeared as a chronicle of King Crimson’s 1974 US summer concert tour, guitarist Robert Fripp had dissolved Crimson, and would not resurrect his group (with different membership) until the start of the 1980s. USA followed on the heels of Red, King Crimson’s final 1970s studio effort, which had pared Crimson to a core trio. When released, USA was barely noticed in America and even less so in England, King Crimson’s home turf. Over ensuing decades, fans and recent musicians who were influenced by the 1970s King Crimson, eventually gave USA higher marks, and the record is now esteemed by some as one of the defining statements of mid-‘70s progressive rock.
The newest, CD/DVD incarnation of USA (part of the King Crimson 40th anniversary series, which commemorates when Crimson formed) would seem to be the all-inclusive edition which supersedes previous ones, and which probably won’t be repeated again anytime soon. Certainly, this should give hardcore fans everything they need regarding the USA material, because it comprises a 2013 mix (ten tracks) on a 78-minute CD; while the DVD has the same 2013 mix of the same 10 tracks, with PCM Stereo 2.0 (24bit/96khz); a 2005 reissue version (with nine tracks), with PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48); a 2002 30th anniversary remaster mix (also with nine tracks), with PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48); and the original UK vinyl transfer, with six tracks. All of the versions involve Fripp (guitar, mellotron), John Wetton (bass, vocals; he later worked with Phil Manzanera and others), drummer Bill Bruford (credited as William Bruford; he was also in UK prog-rock ensemble, Yes) and David Cross (violin, keys).
Two versions have Eddie Jobson’s violin and electric piano overdubbed on top of Cross’s input, because Fripp believed Cross’s parts necessitated additional augmentation, which was done during post-production and mixing: Jobson’s violin is heard on “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic (Part II)”and “21st Century Schizoid Man,” and his electric piano is on “Lament.” Cross, by the way, had already been excised from Crimson when the USA record was discussed as a farewell gift (the LP’s liner notes had a three-letter epigraph regarding Crimson: “R.I.P.”). The bulk of the music came from an Asbury Park, New Jersey gig, with one piece from a Providence, RI performance.
The original, 41-minute vinyl version was edited down to fit then-current LP length constraints. Some of the set list was not incorporated; and two cuts (the improvisation dubbed “Asbury Park” and “Easy Money,” a tune from Crimson’s 1973 studio project, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) faded out early. Here, Crimson kicks wide and hard from the get-go, with the restlessly forceful instrumental “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II),” which immediately jerks awake listeners (and presumably the audience). The pops and clicks of the vinyl grooves still exist, particularly noticeable during softer segments. [Very strange…Ed.] Those who prefer pristine digital sound should avoid this portion of the DVD-audio, although the live mix is quite good, and provides a nice, warm feel during quieter moments, while bass, drums and guitar are potent on brasher sections. Playing this as loudly as possible is recommended.
The 67-minute, 2002 release (for Crimson’s 30th anniversary) is a convincing improvement. Introductory music, a 1:39 excerpt from Fripp and Brian Eno’s 1973 ambient excursion (No Pussyfooting) [yes, the title includes parentheses] is inserted, and at the conclusion two selections are added: a stunning rendition of “Fracture,” an improvisational instrumental which had shown up on Crimson’s 1973 endeavor, Starless and Bible Black; and as an encore, fan favorite “Starless,” which commences with Cross’s elegiac violin. Unfortunately, the fade-outs on “Easy Money” and “Asbury Park” remain. The sound is dynamically superior. Cross’ violin at times screeches as he attempts to keep up with his bandmates’ aggressiveness; Bruford’s amplified bass sometimes escalates into distortion as he edges into the red zone discouraged by engineers and concert soundmen; and the upgraded audio accentuates Wetton’s lyrical details and vocal melodicism.
The 77-minute, 2005 mix is better-quality then the 2002 mix: Ronan Chris Murphy at Discipline Global Mobile (DGM) utilized the original multi-track tapes. This was initially sold as a download-only item in 2005, and then a year later on The Collectable King Crimson Vol. 1 in 2006. While this has all tracks from the 2002 reissue, there are a few differences: the ambitious “21st Century Schizoid Man” (from Crimson’s 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King) was moved to the end, and an alternate adaptation (from the Asbury Park concert) was offered. More notably, the 2005 mix does not include Jobson’s overdubs. It’s appropriate “Schizoid Man” becomes the finale, since the lashing rhythms, piercing guitar, shrieking violin, and energetic instrumental middle section make for a fantastic windup.
The 2013 mix, for Crimson’s 40th anniversary, also employs the original multi-track tapes, but was done by Fripp, Tony Arnold and David Singleton. Although it has the same track order and versions as the 2005 mix, the length, for some reason, only clocks in at 59 minutes [this may be due to reviewer video equipment]. Besides an advanced mix (24/96, as opposed to 24/48 on the 2005 version), Fripp decided to turn the second improvisation, which closes “Easy Money,” into a separate track, called simply “Improv,” so there are 10 pieces rather than nine. This version also does not have Jobson’s overdubs. The CD has the same 2013 mix (and shows a 78-minute duration). The package includes a 16-page booklet with historical photos; brief notes on each version; extracts from Fripp’s 1974 tour diary (funniest bit: getting booked into a senior citizen’s facility masquerading as a hotel); and Sid Smith’s 2013 article. The double digipak and booklet are housed in a stiff cardboard slipcase. [Wow! Obviously for the true Crimson geek…Ed.]
CD [2013 mix]: Walk On: No Pussyfooting; Lark’s Tongue in Aspic (Part II); Lament; Exiles; Improv: Asbury Park; Easy Money; Improv; Fracture; Starless; 21st Century Schizoid Man.
2013 mix, PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/96): same as CD.
Original UK vinyl transfer: Lark’s Tongue in Aspic (Part II); Lament; Exiles; Improv: Asbury Park; Easy Money; 21st Century Schizoid Man.
2005 mix, PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48): same as CD, minus second Improv.
30th Anniversary Remaster, PCM Stereo 2.0 (24/48): same as CD, minus second Improv.