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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Live at Montreux 1997 CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

3.67 | 20 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Booking Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the Montreux Jazz festival in 1997 must have seemed like forcing three very square pegs into an elliptical hole. Not because the event was actually a jazz music festival (it wasn't), but because the trio had been considered obsolete for over two decades already: chart-topping superstars reduced to a legacy act, playing the same old hits for their aging fans. Emerson even dedicated one song in this set ("Honky Tonk Train Blues", hardly a model of Progressive Rock) to his mum, watching from the balcony.

But you'd never guess from this late gig that the band was only a year away from its final breakup. Keith Emerson's dexterity had suffered after his radial nerve (not Brain Salad) surgery in 1993. But he could still attack his keyboards with surprising gusto, in the Tarkus chestnut "Bitches Crystal", and elsewhere.

Greg Lake's ailing voice was likewise no longer a pristine thing of beauty. But as I noted in an older review of the band's Royal Albert Hall performance (recorded five years earlier), the rust in his pipes gave his singing more character, as heard in the low opening verses of "Knife Edge".

And Carl Palmer simply refuses to age.

The material here won't be unfamiliar to diehard fans. This last phase of ELP's career is well documented on the "Live in Poland" CD (from a show only two weeks before this one), and on the lopsided "Then and Now" compilation. And a DVD of the same Montreux concert was released in 2004. I haven't seen it, and frankly don't want to: on compact disc the trio sounds a lot younger than they probably looked in 1997.

The set-list too won't hold any surprises, from the obligatory "Karn Evil 9" Welcome-Back-My-Friends introduction to the usual overkill finale: a 19-minute collision of Brubeck, Copland, Bach and Orff, complete with drum solo and ritual Hammond organ abuse. That trademark vulgar showmanship still raises hackles among the narrow-minded Blues Orthodoxy crowd, but screw them: what you see with your head in the sand is the same view as someone with his head up his ass, after all.

The performances gain strength as the concert continues, by the end of Disc One recapturing (at least audibly) some of the rapport too often lost behind the triple arsenal of egos (and in "Take a Pebble" finally airing a little ersatz jazz on the shores of Lake Geneva). The abbreviated "Tarkus" suite - actually an extended "Stones of Years", with a longer, atypically sensitive Emerson solo - proves yet again how innovative that classic always was. And the climactic segue to the end of "Pictures at an Exhibition" was a perfectly judged moment of high musical bombast.

I've never been the biggest fan of the band's Mussorgsky upgrade, and especially its hyperbolic "Great Gates of Kiev" finish. But the crescendo here is undeniably exciting, with Greg Lake's melodramatic doggerel ("Death is Life") becoming suddenly relevant as the band approached its omega. The lyrics may have sounded trite in 1972, but in 1997 expressed all the frustrated optimism felt by closet Progheads enjoying a rebirth of interest in a style of music long considered dead when it was only dormant.

Regardless of how poorly ELP rode "the tides of fate" after the band's mid-'70s peak, and how little effort the resurrected trio made to transcend the faded glory of those bygone years, the mere fact that they were still alive and kicking and attracting crowds in the late 1990's is reason enough to award this gig a bonus fourth star, as the band was nearing the finish line.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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