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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Live At The Royal Albert Hall CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

2.94 | 161 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this 1992 concert recording (on loan from a friend), after having long ago dismissed ELP as a trio of has-been Prog Rock trailblazers who didn't really progress much after 1971. But I always had a soft spot for the band, dating back to High School when they served as the springboard for my first tentative plunge into the deeper waters of Progressive Rock music. I remember spending a happy afternoon in Mr. Haines' art class, proudly silk-screening the ELP logo onto the back of my underwear: now is that dedication, or what?

Everyone knows the band fell on harder times than most Prog acts during the lean, mean 1980s, so this tour in support of their then-current "Black Moon" reunion album was as much an attempt to rehabilitate their tarnished legacy as it was a move to re- establish themselves among their still rabid fan base (which, in 1992, no longer included yours truly). There isn't anything new or innovative here, but the performances show more enthusiasm and commitment than you might expect from a group that had lingered so long past their expiration date.

At least the equipment is up-to-the-minute, circa 1992. Keith's cool new digital keyboards and Carl's midi-drum kit can take some adjustment for anyone with ears stuck in an analog time warp (funny how they already sound so dated). And Greg's cigarette habit seems to have finally caught up with his once-crystal voice box, although there's an appealing vulnerability to his now husky baritone. He can still hit those high notes when he has to, but clearly needs to ration the attempts.

Together they mesh like a well-oiled machine after an overdue tune-up, with a set list showing more than a little consideration for pace and tempo, unlike their rambling 3-LP live set from the 1970s (the aptly titled "Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends..."). It begins with a medley of certified classics, opening (of course) with the First Impression, Part Two of "Karn Evil 9", clocking in at a brisk 75 seconds (!) before making a dramatic transition to a likewise abbreviated "Tarkus" (about half the title suite), and from there to a full-blooded version of "Knife Edge".

Next is a brace of selections off the "Black Moon" album, as new to me now as they were to the crowds at the Royal Albert Hall in 1992. And it's good stuff too, in a blunt and blustery early '90s AOR sort of way. There's no comparison to the group's groundbreaking Golden Age material, of course, but the songs are miles ahead of the witless would-be hits of "Works Volume II" and "Love Beach", and thus were at least a half step in the right direction.

Included is the usual purloined classic, in this case from Prokofiev's ballet of "Romeo and Juliet", updated with a monster beat that sticks in the mind like musical oobleck (I'm tapping my toes to it even now). It's fun, but by 1992 the novelty of classical rock had long since disappeared. Let's face it: a decade earlier even the nutty boys of Madness were performing ska covers of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake".

Then there's the obligatory solo piano spot from Emerson, as usual played too fast, followed by the expected Greg Lake ballads "Still...You Turn Me On" and "Lucky Man". Both sound richer played live in a large arena, even if some of the lyrics ("...every day a little sadder, a little madder...someone get me a ladder...") still make me cringe.

"Pirates" is the closer, and doesn't miss the cheesy orchestral padding one bit, but hold your breath for the encore: a 15-minute instrumental medley combining "Fanfare For the Common Man" with Emerson's pre-ELP workouts "America" and "Rondo", the latter spotlighting the keyboard wizard's trademark, show-stopping Hammond B3 demolition derby.

That grungy organ sound is like a breath of fresh air after all the pitch-perfect string and horn samples. I might have suspected it was just another digital facsimile, if I hadn't seen it for myself a few years later, when the band was touring with Jethro Tull. But I'll be damned if Keith didn't wheel out the old Hammond warhorse for a bit of rough trade at the climax of their set, throwing it around the stage like a sack of raw potatoes. The visual element is of course missing here, but it's a thrilling finale nonetheless.

ELP had always been a little too conceited in their success, and in the 1990s still presented themselves as rock 'n' roll aristocracy: note the coat-of-arms CD cover art, and the majestic brass fanfare that accompanies their walk off. But in retrospect this was their final burst of true musical energy before advancing age and creative fatigue finally rendered them terminally obsolete (the upcoming "In the Hot Seat" LP was a sad epilogue to a once fruitful career).

Too bad the band didn't quit while they were at least marginally ahead again. I'd bet my underwear that this CD would have made a respectable swan song.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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