King Crimson: Discipline (1981)

Late night comedy tv was in the dregs back in the early '80s.  The original SNL cast had all departed, and the show was at an historical low point.  A Friday night counterpart called Fridays had sprung up, and it was little better.  Still, I was a high school freshman, and felt an obligation to tune in each week, if only for the musical guests, who could be surprisingly interesting.  And I still remember the night, spring of 1981, nearing the end of freshman year, when King Crimson showed up on Fridays.  And I was utterly floored.

I had a general understanding that Crimson had been an early prog band, defunct since around '74 and recently reformed.  But I had yet to wade into progressive rock (I'd discover Gabriel-era Genesis shortly thereafter, which would lead me to early Crimson and many lesser bands), still dividing my time between classic rock and emerging new wave & punk bands.  But this iteration of King Crimson that showed up on Fridays was impossible to pigeonhole.  It was weird and complex, sort of like I imagined prog would sound like, but also felt modern and edgy, not entirely dissimilar from Talking Heads and Bowie (I'd later discover that KC's new frontman Adrian Belew had played guitar for both Bowie and the Heads).

The band was visually striking.  Robert Fripp, the band's wunderkind guitarist from the early days, looked more like my high school physics teacher than a rock star, quietly sitting on a chair on the side of the stage, grinning merrily while picking out impossibly complex guitar patterns; drummer Bill Bruford looked like he'd rather be golfing, while effortlessly sending out occasional bursts of polyrhythmic beats that didn't seem possible for the human hand to create.  Up in front you had this tall, bald, imposing bass player picking at some weird fretted instrument; while Belew, dressed in a pink leisure suit, spoke/sung odd narratives while grinding all manner of odd sounds from his guitar.  It was just spectacular.

I bought Discipline the next chance I got, and loved it.  There were the two upbeat singles they played on tv, "Elephant Talk" and "Thela Hun Ginjeet" (an anagram for the chorus refrain "Heat in the Jungle"), both great.  Plus the crazy "Indiscipline," Belew with a spoken word narration about personal obsession, breaking into a frenzied jam session; and some mellower moments that were great for a quiet night with my headphones on, "Matte Kudasai" and the instrumental title track guitar workout.  I played the hell out of it; still one of my favorite albums today.  (The Belew version of the band persevered for two additional albums before also dissolving, neither as consistent but both offering a few great tunes, as well as a truly essential live album.)

Soon enough I'd venture into the old prog records, which were great in their own way, but seemingly the work of an entirely different band.

Here's "Elephant Talk" from that appearance on Fridays:
Here's a live "Thela Hun Ginjeet":
And a live "Indiscipline":