King Crimson and Pearl Jam represent two decidedly different rock ’n’ roll generations. One forged a prog sound in the late 1960s that would drastically shift and regroup through ensuing decades and scores of personnel changes. The other is essentially the last band standing from the grunge boom of the ’90s, although it has long since graduated (albeit, unwillingly) to elder status. On a pair of new concert recordings, their joint mission is to bring two weighty pedigrees into the present with a balance of vigor and validity. Both succeed and then some.
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King Crimson’s “Live in Chicago” is a double-disc set recorded as recently as June with the latest version of its eight-member lineup — a sonic battalion that places three drummers at the forefront with everyone else (including founder and guitarist Robert Fripp) providing orchestral color, friendly guitar fire and free-jazz skirmishes behind them.
The repertoire spans the band’s 48-year career, but so much of this music has been absent from Crimson’s various touring lineups through the ages that it might as well all be new. From the slowly combustible suite of tunes making up “Lizard” to the pastoral sparseness of “Islands” (title works from albums released at the close of 1970 and 1971, respectively, but never part of any Crimson concert repertoire until now) to the percussive and guitar chatter bolstering the new “The Errors,” the Crimson of today assimilates the past and plows proudly into the future.
Pearl Jam’s “Let’s Play Two” is a single-disc soundtrack distillation of two shows filmed by Danny Clinch at Wrigley Field in August 2016 (roughly four months after the band last played Rupp Arena). Terms like “grunge” or even “post grunge” have long faded from the Pearl Jam lexicon. Instead, the album-opening “Low Light” (a mild obscurity cut for the 1998 studio album “Yield”) sets the tone of a performance that convincingly blends the immediacy of the band’s youth with a seasoned and times sage dignity that frontman Eddie Vedder and company wear like a battle scar.
The formula also works well in what is essentially a “greatest hits” set list. “Better Man” becomes a weary but righteous sing-along, the comparatively recent “Lightning Bolt” is paced like a lit fuse burning down to an anthemic detonation, and “Alive” plays out like a battered fight song that practically floats over the stadium crowd. As a bonus, the closing cover of the Beatles gem “I Got a Feeling” nicely reminds us of the source material for such proud sound and fury.