The former King Crimson dudes couldn’t catch a break on Cruise to the Edge 2024, which sailed March 8-13. Still, it didn’t stop them from spreading the warm glow of prog on a cruise ship crammed with nerdy, obsessive fans often satisfied just seeing their idols peruse the buffet options.

At the Stardust Theater, the classiest venue on a Norwegian cruise ship sailing from Miami to Cozumel, Adrian Belew led his reliable trio through classic Crim finger-breakers and mood-shifting solo cuts — and he beamed generously from the stage throughout, even though his guitar malfunctioned through a sizable chunk of the set. Days later at the pool stage, Belew's tech issues were even more aggressive: Between still-uproarious takes on "Frame By Frame" and "Young Lions," the band scrambled for solutions that involved fresh batteries and compressor-pedal swaps.

Finally, a moment of collective transcendence bubbled up during the encore: Belew’s former Crimson bandmate Tony Levin — also onboard with his own trio, Stick Men — walked through the evening breeze to thunderous applause, carrying his trusted low-end machine, the Chapman Stick. But the tech problems seemed to linger during Discipline anthem "Elephant Talk" — you couldn’t hear his signature funky riff at all, at least toward the front of the crowd. (If only we could have located the retirement-age dude wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "I Fix Stuff, and I Know Things." This was his time to shine!)

There’s another sad irony here: During Stick Men’s set a couple days prior, Levin was forced to sit out entirely, his instrument having been somehow sent to the wrong storage area. (Keyboardist Adam Holzman admirably stepped in for a unique, more jazz-leaning set seemingly heavy on improv.) But again, even seeing these giants together onstage, doing their best to hammer out a prog staple, meant something to everyone in their presence.

But Cruise to the Edge isn’t strictly a nostalgia machine, even if it routinely churns out plenty. A perfect example is Steve Hackett: During his co-headlining Stardust set, the former Genesis guitarist continued to maneuver through that band’s epics (including a version of the 23-minute "Supper’s Ready" that nearly left one guy in the balcony with whiplash); but he also played a smattering of new solo tracks, and even the old stuff had a fresh coat of paint, courtesy of some clever arrangements (partly thanks to woodwind player Rob Townshend).

And the lineup has only grown more diverse — in terms of age and style — over the years. One minute, you could sample the medieval folk-prog stylings of Gryphon, who once opened for Yes in the '70s; the next, you could bask in the modern prog-metal majesty of Haken or the open-armed, symphonic-scale beauty of Big Big Train. (The latter’s theater show, part of the veteran band’s first-ever U.S. tour, was among the cruise’s obvious highlights — from the violin-led churn of "Folklore" through the tear-streaked grandeur of "Victorian Brickwork.")

Loving prog in the 21st century often makes you feel like an outcast. Because of that fact, Cruise to the Edge still feels like some kind of weird sanctuary — one that will hopefully continue to evolve with that loosely defined genre itself. In 2024, no amount of annoyance — from technical glitches to mansplaining collectors at the lounge bar — could dampen the soothing strains of Minimoog.

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Gallery Credit: Ryan Reed

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