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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 930 ratings

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3 stars This legendary trio was never lacking any components in the confidence department, that's for sure. A mere seven months after forming they recorded this live recital of their brave interpretation of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" on March 26, 1971 at Newcastle City Hall. There was no studio version so they only had one shot to get it correct. These guys had big brass ones, if you know what I mean. But sometimes taking risks pays off and this project did. It's not without a few flaws and moments of excess here and there but it's definitely a must have for any fan of ELP or concert recordings in general.

On "Promenade" Keith Emerson introduces you to the stately central musical theme of the piece as he performs it on a cathedral pipe organ and it's quite effective. They quickly move on to "The Gnome" (drummer Carl Palmer gets half credit for writing) which has jerky, arresting starts and stops before Greg Lake steps up to the plate with some interesting wah-wah bass lines. They proceed to build a heavy, menacing atmosphere with Emerson creating havoc on both organ and Moog synthesizer. A return to "Promenade" is next as Lake does a vocal take on the beautiful theme. You are then treated to some further wildness from Keith's Moog before things settle down once more. At this point Greg picks up the acoustic and takes the spotlight on "The Sage." In his prime the man had one of the best and most recognizable voices in the biz and he wasn't too shabby on guitar, either. This segment proves it. "The Old Castle" is full- blown rock and roll with Emerson displaying the vast flexibility and range of his synthesizers before the group transitions into their own "Blues Variation," a joyful and spirited jam that shows without a doubt that this is one very tight and talented combo. Emerson shines on the Hammond here. Yet again they reprieve "Promenade," this time with the whole band playing it together. "The Hut of Baba Yaga" is the most complex part of the rendition but they pull it off without a hitch. Then Lake adds some fuzz tone to his wah-wah bass pedal at the beginning of a group composition, "The Curse of Baba Yaga." (It's not crystal clear when one song starts and another one ends so I'm giving you my best estimation of the tracks here.) You get another dose of fiery organ and Moog from Emerson as Lake shouts his vocalizations over their ferocious music. They then retreat back to "The Hut of Baba Yaga," featuring Keith playing the theme on the Hammond. At last you reach "The Great Gates of Kiev" where Greg sings the regal refrain brilliantly, followed by a nicely subdued organ version of the "Promenade" theme. Then things get freaky as Emerson manufactures torturous sounds as if he's doing everything painful he can think of to his Hammond short of immersing it in a deep fryer. It's blessedly short in duration, though, and Lake reenters to finish it off with strained but emotional singing. The audience, which is politely attentive during most of the show, obviously had a great time and they fittingly reward the triad of virtuosos with enthusiastic applause. But wait. That's not all, folks! You also get the encore, their excellent arrangement of Kim Foley's "Nutrocker" where the band performs a thrilling boogie-woogie treatment of familiar themes from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" and it's a keeper. Fun, rockin' stuff.

I've always been respectful of Carl Palmer's drumming but I've never ranked him in the upper echelon because of his tendency to play more than is needed too often. However, I have to say that his performance on this album is delightfully understated and, therefore, one of his best. And the sound quality is exceptional for the era and that's because Eddie Offord's engineering is top-notch as usual. Bookended between their impressive studio albums "Tarkus" and "Trilogy," this LP didn't get as much support as it should have and it truly deserves to be considered as more than just a gutsy move on their part. If anything it's a terrific example of how phenomenally ELP worked together as a unit in the early stages of their stellar career. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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