Yes, it’s another live album, and put out the year after the band folded yet again. These posthumous live releases are starting to become a theme — my copy of the album even has an “R.I.P.” at the end of the track and personnel listing on the back cover. Though for some reason, just like with Earthbound, there’s no hint of this album on the band’s channel aside from Asbury Park, my least favorite track, go figure. Why? Who knows. Maybe these albums have some weird licensing issues.
But thank God, very much unlike Earthbound, USA is a worthy enough tribute to the Wetton/Bruford/Cross lineup it represents, a recording taken from their American tour as the album’s title suggests. The track listing this time actually makes sense and isn’t totally stupid, featuring plenty of good stuff from Larks’ Tongues (“Part II”, “Exiles”, “Easy Money”) and just one improvisation (“Asbury Park”, named after the city they were playing in New Jersey) that’s actually okay — plenty of energy in that one at least.
In fact, the energy and skill is all on display in USA. Just as importantly, the recording more or less does the band and their material justice, with “Larks’ Tongues Part II” as a special highlight from the first side. And look, they’re still playing “21st Century Schizoid Man”! This track was the closer on the strangely short original vinyl release of USA — but still a great closer, and this 70s Crimson lineup does an excellent job with it.
If that were all I had on my version of the album, I’d complain about Red going completely unrepresented. However, the CD reissue of USA I own contains two bonus tracks: “Fracture”, one of the better possible choices off of Starless and Bible Black, and “Starless”, which is the best track on the album and an even better closer than “Schizoid Man”. Maybe that’s sacrilege to say, but I think these two songs are held in just about equally high esteem by fans anyway.
Not much else to say except to look out for Wetton’s ad-libbing in the first verse of “Easy Money”. If that “health food-” line in “Great Deceiver” was an awkward one, at least to my American ears, this one is quite literally criminal. That’s not an argument you’ll win with a judge, John. Not unless “licking fudge” has a more innocent connotation than I’m imagining.
So USA is a good album. Worth picking up for sure if you find yourself getting into this band and want to hear what they sounded like back in 1974 when they played live. It really is a different sort of energy, and it’s nice to hear the crowd noise come in on occasion — I can imagine myself in the crowd, and I may well have been if I hadn’t been about a negative dozen years old at the time. And if you want to hear this lineup of the band live without buying USA, the roughly concurrent archival live release The Night Watch is up on Crimson’s channel, and it’s probably good too. The closest I ever got to seeing these guys actually live was an open air concert by Adrian Belew and two guitar prodigy kids he was touring with years ago — but that’s spoiling what’s coming up next in this series. I hope you’re ready for some Discipline!