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on November 27, 2002
For those without easy money to spend, the now rampant tendency of the music industry to re-release old music in remastered form with bonus tracks presents a dilemma--is it really worth buying? For the King Crimson fan, who has been subjected lately to Fripp's mania for releasing archival live material anyway, the question is doubled--because much of the material on USA is already copiously documented elsewhere.
Remastering doesn't necessarily mean better, but in the case of USA it is not just better, it is phenomenally better. A side-by-side comparison of the original and the remastered version instantly makes one realize that it was money very well spent. The reason largely has to do with the music on the album in the first place. It is dense, heavy music mostly, super thick with distorted bass, and benefits grandly by having the original "muddiness" of the recording sharpened, made crisper and clearer.
Moreover, the sequence of music on this remastered disk makes for a marvelous progression of songs. Don't be fooled, however. The statement that "Walk On - No Pussyfooting" is a bonus track is not true. It is simply an ambient hum that King Crimson had running on tape while they walked on; it is included on the original vinyl already and leads directly into the first song. Nothing new (or bonus) about it at all.
"Larks' Tongues in Aspic II" would seem to be the piece Fripp would like to see replace "21st Schizoid Man" as a definitive King Crimson statement. In any case, the version here is without question my favorite--the heaviest, most thundering, most driving live edition ever (and totally superior to the album version). What most makes it for me is the explosively powerful violin solo, which has never been matched in quality or intensity before or since. It alone would make me own USA if I didn't already. And, needless to say, remastered it is even more powerful.
USA also features a performance of "Lament", one of Fripp's better compositions inexplicably not showcased regularly on other live albums. The ending riff, tragically short, is here far superior to the album's original in sheer power, once again deepened all the more by the remastering.
"Exiles" and "Easy Money" are both concert staples from the era, and are amply documented elsewhere. There are probably "better" versions as well, but they contribute very well to the overall flow of the album here nevertheless. "Exiles" in particular, is a comparatively mellow decompression after the intensity of the first two songs.
Nestled between "Exiles" and "Easy Money" is the improvisation, unique to USA, called "Asbury Park". Collecting concert improvisations is, of course, a prime task for the King Crimson fan, and this is USA's offering. Heavy, driving, percussive, it continues to be one of my favorite band improvisations, improved spectacularly by the remastering, and so readily makes a "buy" recommendation for this disc.
"21st Century Schizoid Man" ended the original album. Like Tull's "Aqualung", it's a concert obligatory, though more refined fans wouldn't mind a concert release without this fossil. With so many other live versions to listen to, there are certainly better ones out there. There is not anything wrong with the version here, however--the band gets through it with power and aplomb; its only fault is in its conventionality, relative to some of the other more daring versions other performances reflect.
Unlike many bonus tracks, which are novelties, demos or dubious remixes, here we get instead two more archival releases (from the same day of performance as most of the rest of the original).
The first, "Fracture", may well be the best piece ever written by Fripp. The first time I heard this version, I didn't like it--it seemed cluttered and at one point, while segueing back into the opening theme, it sounded like the band actually miscued. With subsequent listenings, I came to accept these differences as at least interesting, if not intentional. In any case, another live version of "Fracture" is always a welcome thing, and there is one wrenching guitar note by Fripp toward the end of the finale that makes the whole effort worth it.
"Starless", another of Fripp's finest compositions, always benefits from a live performance because it excludes the dreadful saxophone blatting found on the studio version. The song features Wetton at his most vocally soulful (close listeners can appreciate the lyrics that are here different than on the album "Red"), and has one of the all-time great guitar riffs (in 13) in the slow, methodical, delicious middle section. Wetton's bass in this version is especially monstrous, rumbling with vibrato. As with "Fracture", it is always a treat to get another live version of "Starless", which achieves the kind of epic Fripp could only strive for "In the Court of the Crimson King".
The only complaint here is that Fripp allows 2 minutes of applause at the end of the disc to go on and on and on, as if the music were not enough to convince us of its majesty so that we need to hear others clapping about it. Purists might also object to the violin overdubs (on "Larks'" and "21st Century Schizoid Man"), the piano overdubs (on "Lament")--both by Eddie Jobson--and that "21st Century Schizoid Man" is not from the same evening of performance. All of these "defects" are features of the original album, though, and are geared not toward deceiving the listener into thinking this is a pure live document, but rather toward making the music as effective as possible.
The effort was well worth it. King Crimson succeeds magnificently here--something that can be appreciated all the more because of the remastering. In fact, I think this is a better introduction to King Crimson live than "Cirkus" (a double-CD set that showcases the 74 band on Disc 2).
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on February 11, 2004
This long-delayed reissue of King Crimson's 1974 live album may seem superfluous to those who already own "The Night Watch," 1997's double CD taken from the same era (Bruford/Cross/Fripp/Wetton lineup). It's true that the track listing overlaps that of "The Night Watch." But "USA" remains essential for Crimso aficionados, due to the inclusion of material unavailable elsewhere, as well as its presence in the original EG Crimson discography.
It took Fripp & Co. a long time to reissue this one; perhaps they were looking for a complete take of "Easy Money," which fades out abruptly here. But the wait is justified by an excellent remastering job. The mix is clear, allowing the band's prodigious talents to shine through. Many consider this incarnation of King Crimson to be the greatest progressive rock lineup of all time; "USA" will only reinforce that belief.
The powerful, improvised instrumental "Asbury Park," a more confident and focused relative to "Starless and Bible Black" and "Providence," highlights the disc. There's also a rare live performance of "Starless," with alternate lyrics and a slightly different intro melody. Finally, the truncated "Easy Money" features a radically different guitar solo from the original version.
The generous CD booklet features a plethora of live pictures, scribbled set lists, and articles and reviews of the band and tour - even some negative ones!
So Crimheads will definitely want "USA" for their collections. This is also a decent place to start exploring live mid-70s Crimson - although "The Night Watch" does offer a more complete picture of this brilliant band at their peak.
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on June 1, 2003
Recently I started listening to the live material by the 1973-74 King Crimson. This band sometimes reminds me of other bands I like while simultaneously remaining unique. I have spent the last few months playing "USA", "Nightwatch" and "Great Deceiver". I can't help but wonder if this version of King Crimson and their approach were influenced by The Grateful Dead's Europe 1972 tour, and the formation of the Mahavishnu orchestra a year earlier- who introduced a killer electric guitar/violin sound to the world on 1971's "inner mounting flame". Wetton actually refers to the Grateful Dead in "The Great Deceiver" booklet notes. Some of Crimson's spacey improvisations remind me of the Dead, some of their instrumental flights remind me of Mahavishnu, and there are moments which harken a sound similar to Black Sabbath's first two records...yet Crimson is still entirely their own animal. The music on this 1974 concert is heavier than "the Nightwatch" disc (from 1973). Both are excellent and may be all the live King Crimson you'll need. The recording is good (for the time) and the performance is powerfull. The bonus tracks make this the one to get (if you have to pick just one)...after an insane version of "21st century schizoid man", there are excellent versions of "Fracture" and "Starless". Robert Fripp does some ferocious solos on this album. The whole band is great. Bruford seems to be more at home in Crimson and he became a more versatile percusionist, adding to his choice of instruments. Wetton lays down some heavy bass (with intentional fuzzy distortion) and fine vocals, his performance on "Exiles" being among the highlights. The musical talent and genius of this group comes through on the "USA" disc. Though the general emotive response on most of these tracks is fear, anyone who appreciates impressive musicianship will want to own it.
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on May 2, 2014
Hello again!
I just realise that I am late doing my review. As mention before I am a big time lover of KC's music. so, the first time I listen to it I listen with only feeling what is that I get out of it for myself, I don't think about anything else. For this one and I don't really know why, I do like it a lot, but some how I must have expected more and I don't know what it would have been, this is just the raw feeling I had after my first listening. Of course I have listen to it many time since, and that first impression did not go away, I am still feeling a bit let down that it didn't impress me the way that all the other did. And please don't get me wrong, I still think it is a great album, but you see I think that all the stuff that we didn't get on the first version is instrumental, so, if you are a totaly big fan of this period for ever instrumental piece, well, this is for you, I know I am about to say that many will not be happy about it, but I am 58 now, when this album came out I was about 19, doing a lot of party, yes a lot of drugs, and I am not bragging about it, far from that, I don't use anymore and I still enjoy most of what I did like under the drugs effecrts. but for me, and this is only for me, in this period, I was using a lot of real heavy drugs and I use to meditate and just be gone on a cloud to make it short, but again, this is just for me, those long piece of instrumental that really are going nowhere is somewhat a lost of time. the original album had the right balance that yes I could take it, even now, and really enjoy it by doing my meditation without drugs. but because of all the extra instrumental, it is a bit too much for me, and it is for me even irritating. Contrary to let's say the full version of moon child I believe it is call, forgive me if I am wrong, yes on this piece on the very first album, but on the 40 th, you have a way longer piece, but I don't find the piece irritating, I can really meditate and relax, without drug and it is lovely, but the period of Red, Bible black and USA, wich I love so much, the origianl had a good balance between the experimental stuff and the so call regular song, but the red and bible black 40 th, it did some how kept a good balance but with this one, not for me, too much of the experimental. If you have read my previous review of KC, you will see that I am a real maniac of this band, this band has been a companion of my life, it is always there when I need it and again I say thank you to Robert to give us new release of concert or a make over of older album, how ever it is nice to keep King crimson very well alive. Now, I have kind of picture a negative portrait of this album. Now, let's look at the other side of the story. I knew before purchasing it that it was a album heavy on the experimental stuff, I should not have been surprise, maybe on the back burner of my head I was hoping for some regular songs that would not have been release before. But let's look at it for what it is not what I would like it too be. Now that I had a lot of time, I do enjoy the album very much and the sound is for sure so much better if you have the right kind of sound system, but if I look at all the one of this collection, this one would be my less, how should I say, the one that impress the less. But in my own way I do love this album, but I would not have been honest if I had giving it a 5 stars.
I feel bad about saying this in regard to my favorite band, but it is what it is right?
thanks for reading.
and one short note to thanks again amazon to give us the blind customers of amazon, that choise to use the old way to write a review, I can only talk for myself, but with the new way, I could not write a review, and I am sure I am not the only one, so thank you and please don't forget some of us. I would be very offended if I didn't have that choice , to the point to take my business somewhere else. A big thank you, you show that you care.
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on April 8, 2003
The good things first:
Fracture and Starless are good renditions and sound a little more inspired than the songs from the original album.
The sound is much better than the album and most important it's finally available on CD
The not so good things:
After some fantastic performances already available on CD this set, particularly the originally released tracks are not as energetic or 'on'.
Lament just doesn't work well here, nor does 20th Century...especially the too loose rendition.
In all this is still a fascinating release with strong performances of Exiles and Easy Money but (and this is the biggest frustration I have on the entire CD) it fades out as they go into - for this edition of King Crimson - an ambient segment. Maybe the next part was lost on tape or wasn't good in Fripp's estimation but I hated it on the original release and was hoping the song would have followed to it's logical conclusion.
Larks Tongue in Aspic II seems a bit tenative, played safely and far less powerful than when I saw them on this tour. Lament is a wonderful song and sounds great on the "Starless and Bible Black" album but was always a difficult song to pull off live whereas Great Deceiver has been very good on CDs and when I saw this particular band. Other shorter songs would have been a better choice but it's important to remember this was released in 1974 and at the time the band was probably sick of the project, not to mention Fripp's work as a producer and collaborator with Brian Eno.
The one improv, Asbury Park was more a jam, albiet a good one, than the complex, multi-layered work they were capable of.
In any case this is a good set of songs that is unfairly compared to better collections. 20th Century... has a very cool arrangement and is still fun to listen to. So even on a critical level this set is well performed and representational of King Crimson's live show at it's time. Taken on it's terms USA was a good album in it's time and a worthy purchase now.
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on April 6, 2003
Oh, those wacky Crims. Each new lineup started practically from scratch, they built their way to the top, and inevitably seemed to split up right when they'd produced their most incredible work. So, come 1974 the group was ready to split up for good (or at least for the next seven years). As monstrous as their studio recordings were (and are), KC's ultimate energy always comes out onstage. So - before the calm of the group's first hiatus, there was the storm.. and this one was a doozy. Wild guitar crunch; thunderous yet really tricky drum work. "Lament," full of easy groove and fierce energy. "21st Century Schizoid Man," a deranged composition complex enough to leave lesser musicians with their heads spinning. In the middle of it all was classically trained violinist David Cross, becoming more and more overwhelmed by the band's firepower every night (which partly contributed to the breakup). He adds some nice texture here and there, particularly the darkly sweet "Exiles," but he was quite out of place.
USA's song selection is essentially a normal setlist of the time, though shortened. The ubiquitous "Larks' Tongues in Aspic II" blazes and roars. The one improv included, "Asbury Park," is seven minutes of the most visceral, dynamic improvising that's been released from this group. Robert Fripp's guitar sears with crazed metallic fury. John Wetton's bass thrums with a primal fuzzy distortion worthy of Hendrix. Bill Bruford propels everyone from behind the drumkit with an unnatural ease, considering all the crazily-timed rhythmic work that goes into everything he plays.
This CD issue adds two tracks from the same concerts the original album came from; Fripp's evil instrumental "Fracture" and the ultimate KC song of the era, "Starless." This actually outdoes the version from the Red album, which I hadn't thought was possible - the quiet verses are even more haunting and bleak, the tension-building bridge is even more high-strung and unnerving than the later studio recording (no easy feat when you're jamming in 13/8 time), and the final mad-blowing assault is enough to make me forget whatever I'm doing and stand captivated by its sheer stunning grandiosity. It's a finish that's just about impossible to follow. That's probably why the obligatory "Schizoid Man," their traditional encore, wasn't placed at the end as it was on the original LP. Anything else would be anticlimactic. I leave off a star for a couple small snags: the small violin & piano overdubs which keep it from being strictly a live album, the obviously looped applause at the end, the inexplicable fadeout of "Easy Money." But all Crimson is good Crimson, and I can't focus on the negatives for long when there's so much richness to listen for.
USA is a powerful recording of this lineup at the top of their game, and the remastering treatment only makes everything sound fuller and crisper than ever. It's a worthy compilation for those new to the group, or anyone who likes Crimson at all and wants to experience how powerful they could really be. And if all other reasons fail.. there's still "Starless." I can't stress enough what a phenomenal performance that track is. KC disappeared for several years and sounded completely different once it came out of hiding, but they left behind some music in a league its own that hasn't been equalled. Give it a try and hear what you've been missing.
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on December 2, 2002
The long-awaited CD remaster of "U.S.A." is finally here! The sound is a lot sharper and clearer here than it was on the original vinyl. You can hear the top end of Wetton's buzzing bass cabinet (something you couldn't hear on the vinyl), proof that he was truly the loudest bass player at the time.
With this album, it's almost as if King Crimson were the anti-progressive rock band. Before this came out, YES and ELP both put out their poorly-recorded three-album live snoozefests, but with this, Crimson put out a single album of loud, hard material of themselves in live full flight, and that's all you needed ("Don't lump us in with those guys!").
One thing that's different from the vinyl is that "Easy Money" is either a re-mix or an alternate mix. Wetton's voice is free of the "phasing" effect that was used on the vinyl version, which is nice to hear, but the gain is still on his voice on "Schizoid Man". Maybe the reason it fades out it because the tape ran out while they were recording.
The versions of "Fracture" and "Starless" at the end are great, but then anything by this lineup is welcome by me. Thanks, Mr. Fripp, for finally putting it out!
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on October 25, 2002
Imagine being a side man in your own band. Now imagine that you've reformed the band taken the reins and control the direction the band was going in....only to become a sideman in your own band. This was Robert Fripp's dilemma. The Islands era KC veered into blues and jazz territory. Fripp wasn't pleased and dissolved the band. Looking back on it, maybe he was a bit hasty. Still, it allowed him to recruit Yes' Bill Brufford, bassist John Wetton (Family, Roxy Music and many others) and newcomer David Cross on violin. Live this was one of the most potent version of KC you could imagine.
Two years and three albums later Fripp disbanded KC. He didn't like the road, didn't want to work with Brufford and was generally annoyed with the oneupmanship that came to dominate the band (Wetton having the mix engineer turn up the volume of his bass; Brufford having his drums louder and poor talented Cross lost in the mix of electric instruments and percussion).
At the very end Wetton and Fripp put together USA. The only "offical" live album at the time of its release, USA still sounds pretty good. There are still a couple of minor problems. Exiles fades out like on the vinyl version prior to what promised to be an outstanding Fripp solo. 21st Century Schzoid Man is technically quite good but the vocals lack the fire of the original line up and Lake's icy delivery. The only live version that has done justice to the song live is probably the version recorded by the Fripp-Burrell-Collins-Wallace Islands era KC.
My only complaint is the song line up. I realize Fripp meant to duplicate the vinyl presentation of the original album but 21st Century Schzoid Man was the encore. The other two songs (I could be mistaken about this) come from earlier in the performance. They still provide a fine coda to the album but Schzoid Man is a tough act to follow even when played less than perfect.
Still, the version included here is quite good and Eddie Jobson's overdubbed violin part could easily compete with Collins' sax part on the Earthbound version. It's not a perfect live performance but it's quite powerful nevertheless. There are a number of KC live albums available at the KC website disciplinemobile.com. Many of these feature this edition of KC in top form(including the Live at the Zoom Club release despite being sonically challenged. It's also the only recording available of the 5 piece Lark's line up featuring the antics of percussionist Jamie Muir).
Taken as an aural document of the last incarnation of KC, USA is a splendid album. Not every song here is the definitive version but so what? They play with fire throughout most of the performance. It's well worth having if you're a KC fan.
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on September 5, 2002
At long last, "USA" is availible on CD. I don't know why Fripp waited so long to release this to the public; I can see why he wouln't want anyone to hear "Earthbound" but I can't find anything on this disc that would seem substandard or irrelevant. Maybe it's the Jobson overdubs. Maybe it was tied up in contractual obligations and red tape. I don't know, I can only guess.
What a band! King Crimson was always better live, a fact they realized when they put live material on "Starless and Bible Black". In the studio album "Red" they hinted at they intensity they could achieve onstage, but there was still something missing. It's finally captured on this disc. Every track is stunning, from the musicianship to the sonic quality, and we can finally get a glimpse at why the band had such a following in the mid-70s; they are equal or greater than bands like Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly in terms of raw power and energy in front of an audience.
And listen to the crowd - yelling, screaming, hooting, shouting, but above all clapping. Clapping until the palms of their hands bleed. Clap on, O audience, Crimso has cerainly earned it.
King Crimson seemed to write music and record an approximation of it in the studio, but really ACHIEVE it in a live context. Check out the version of "Exiles" - this is the definitive record of this song, and this performance could be King Crimson's best performance of anything, ever. And the improvisation - a very atypical KC improv, no doodling around for ten minutes until they find a high point, they START at the high point on this one. John Wetton's Bass has a quality to it that can only be described as "Snarling".
The version of "Fracture", with bass-heavy beginning, and "Schizoid Man", with treated vocals, also stand out. "Fracture" and "Starless" were not on the original vinyl release, but they are taken from the same show, so I guess you could progam your CD player to play the tracks in this order - 12345786 - to get the whole concert in the right sequence.
There's only one problem with this CD - the edited version of "Easy Money". Right in the middle of Fripp's solo, when he's just about to reach an important climax, they fade the song out. This apalling edit could not have been done live, and I have no idea why they did it. I can understand the need for it on vinyl, but why on CD? They have twelve minutes of time still left on the CD, and unless the song went on past the fadeout for that long (which I doubt), I don't know why they couldn't finish it. I would've given it five stars were it not for that nasty edit.
But if you can get past that, you'll be in for a treat with this disc. The performances here are even better than the ones on "The Nightwatch", released in 1996 by DGM and until now the definitive document of live 73-74 Crimson. And as always, the packaging is superbly informative. A must buy for any fan of Crimson.
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on September 9, 2002
As soon as I heard that this was released I rushed out to the record store to buy it. I had looked for this album before and was frustrated with the lack of availability of it. Let me tell you that I was not disappointed in my purchase.
Wetton's bass and vocals have never sounded better than on this live release. In fact, the entire band was in fine form; very tight and loud. The last track, "Starless" is the most compelling track in this set - a treat, since most songs from the Red album aren't available on the various Crimson live recordings.
The packaging was great (cardboard sleeve with a more than ample amount of liner notes and pictures from the period) and the audio was mixed very well. The only down side was the fade out of Easy Money - I don't quite know why that was done, but the inclusion of Starless makes up for it, in my opinion.
If you like John Wetton era King Crimson, your collection cannot lack this essential component.
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