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Renaissance - Live At Carnegie Hall CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.26 | 225 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars First an apology of sorts: in my misguided youth I had always politely dismissed Renaissance as middlebrow lightweights, hardly worth the attention of a partisan teen proghead devoted to the more abrasive sounds of Krautrock and KING CRIMSON. Now older and wiser, I can better appreciate the rich melodic beauty and easygoing sophistication in much of their music, and what better way to become reacquainted with the band than a concert from their creative peak in the mid-1970s?

Discovering this double-disc live album after nearly 35 years is like opening a lavish, long buried (and only slightly tarnished) time capsule from the Golden Age of symphonic prog. In retrospect they were never a band about to set the world on fire, practicing a refined blend of classical rock that was hardly rock 'n' roll at all (it lacked the authority of an electric guitarist), and never played loud enough to overpower all the woodwinds and strings.

Truthfully, Renaissance might be the perfect band for people who find early GENESIS too edgy. But the group had a not-so-secret weapon in its arsenal: vocalist Annie Haslam, whose golden voice was warm enough to illuminate the highest rafters of Carnegie Hall, and at the same time strong enough to span (according to some reports) a range of five full octaves.

Here the quintet was appearing alongside the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a collaboration greatly enhancing the already lush symphonic depth of their setlist. I'm thinking of the majestic coda to the song "Running Hard" and the thrilling climax to "Can You Understand", and in particular the near 30-minute "Song of Scheherazade", which filled an entire side of the original twin-LP package.

The epic suite is probably the band's magnum opus, and this 1975 performance (introducing the music shortly before it appeared on the eponymous studio album) arguably marked the zenith of their entire career. The romantic Arabian Nights setting was the perfect vehicle for such a quintessential Prog Rock period piece, remarkably owing little to the Rimsky-Korsakov original, except for a brief orchestral nod to the Sultan's theme at the 10:30 mark.

And after the mannered classicism of "Scheherazade" it's nice to hear the band stretch out in a loose fusion jam during the climactic "Ashes Are Burning", doubling the length of the already generous studio original. The live presentation includes a long and somewhat clumsy bass guitar solo by Jon Camp that must have sounded really groovy in the mid- '70s, but never mind: the crowd eats it up, and the players respond with a rousing finale.

Little did the group know it was living on borrowed time, and soon to be swept aside in shifting musical tides. But for the moment, and with this live set, Renaissance would beat the symphonic pants off their orchestral rock competition: RICK WAKEMAN's likewise live "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (but of course that particular emperor never had any clothes to begin with); and ELP's forthcoming "Works, Volume One", by comparison sounding even more redundant than it already was.

If I had heard "Live at Carnegie Hall" back in 1976 it might have been a nostalgic five-star classic in my collection by now. And even if, like me, you missed it the first time around, the album provides an invaluable roadmap to a belated trip down memory lane.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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