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Keith Emerson - Keith Emerson - Glenn Hughes - Marc Bonilla. Boys Club - Live From California CD (album) cover


Keith Emerson

Crossover Prog

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3 stars Californian Double-Garage Band

Perhaps Emerson, Hughes & Bonilla was never gonna set consumer pulses racing but Boy's Club? The latter sounds like a failed teen group that even those credulous denizens of the mall dismiss as 'booey wack' The cover art captures the lads in 'sunglasses after dark mode' with Emerson in particular looking about as threatening as a disgruntled monastery auditor.

Mr Hughes vocal stylings certainly polarise the Lemming household, as Mrs L coos girlishly about how cute he is and swoons over what she hears as 'soulful macho swagger' whereas I deem his tonsilry as technically flawless but hopelessly mannered and affected.(As someone who cannot sing a note and resembles the produce of a live fish bait store, my jealously will be pitifully transparent) Just to compound my own prejudices I note that vocalists whose singing I loathe such as LaBrie and Hughes have American accents while Paul Rodgers, Chris Farlowe and Ian Gillan whose rawk affectations I like have discernible British accents. I'll let you do the FLAMING maths.

Afterburner - Verbatim Baba O'Riley synth intro albeit via Bonilla's palm muted picking which leads into an unpromising pub chugalong over which is stated a theme which might feel more at home in a fusion context. The central section smacks of arbitrary chords played in unison as if the difficulty of the undertaking was an end in itself.(Counting is not a spectator sport) That Bonilla is a very accomplished guitarist is a complete no-brainer but here he dives headlong into the murky waters of Widdley Creek oblivious to the paddle lying abandoned on the bank.This type of plank spanking communicates precisely zero, it's speed typing of memos that the recipients are clearly too lazy to read. Three Hundred notes a second? awesome dude! Two words a minute: This sucks.

Long Journey Home - A very spacey and atmospheric instrumental with Emerson's pensive and droning synth pads lending sympathetic support to Bonilla's eastern inflected bowed guitar put through the Ravi Shankar Yodelling in the Grand Canyon reverb fx preset on his digital rack. As an intro to Hoedown it does work but as a composition in it's own right? Nah.

Hoedown - Another very spirited romp through the ol' ELP staple and although the unison playing from Emo and Bonilla is undoubtedly skilful it doesn't lend anything new to what is becoming a rather dottery and absent minded standard. The 'hand on belt buckle' bluegrass breakdown in the middle is good fun and Bonilla displays a wit and humour to his playing that was conspicuous by its absence up to now. The wah wah transition back to the main theme could have been exploited more methinks, but all things considered, this ain't too shabby at all.(and Hughes hasn't even cleared his throat yet. Was he stuck in a cab en route to the gig?)

A Whiter Shade of Pale - No alas, but to be fair Glen does display uncharacteristic restraint on this Procul Harum classic by his reading of the tune faithfully to the spirit of the original. Perhaps my worst fears are groundless? Interestingly, the band adopt a fresh approach here, and resist the temptation to revisit the liturgical feel of the original via the organ. Instead, the Bach quote is carried by Bonilla's plangent guitar and Emerson restricts himself to subdued and understated synth pads and some sparing piano flourishes as the song builds.There are scores of wretched covers of this song but this is one of the best (listen to wee Annie Lennoxs' version for an instance of rigor mortis prior to death)

White Noise - Possibly one of the only instances of a tune that actually manages to advance the boogie genre into uncharted territory. Bonillas's imaginative composition displays everything in abundance that his playing on Afterburner lacked i.e. subtlety, wit, irony and innovation. Emerson actually decided to hook up with Marc after hearing the latter perform this number in a Californian watering hole. Keith's knuckle busting piano solo is a veritable eargasm for this listener (but then I'm a shameless Emo fanboy)

Cover Me - Utterly pedestrian US rawk grunt which with hideous irony, serves as a vehicle for Hughes to rev up his Mustang Sally soul holler thang y'all. His overuse of melisma is grievously irritating when he stretches a single word or phrase so that it practically encompasses a whole scale. This device can be very effective if used to enhance or improvise on a given melody,(soul singers do this effortlessly) but like Bonilla on Afterburner, this is a lack of original ideas cloaked by technique.Imagine a pale Wilson Pickett auditioning for Dream Theatre and try to get a good night's sleep thereafter.

Nutrocker - Quotes delightfully from Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies on the intro but the pungent harmonies chosen by Emo and Bonilla lend this quaint piece an unexpected mordant edge. Thereafter we are treated to a damn nifty classical knees up round the ol' joanna and the whole band radiate fun, fun, fun in spades. Keith's solo is again a belter and the entire arrangement displays a healthy irreverence for both the original source and the player's own egos. As your correspondent is too short sighted/drunk to read the sleeve notes properly, I suspect the second guitar solo is that of Mike Wallace and the electric piano/clavinet excursion belongs to Ed Roth? It's Nutrocker Jim, but not as we know it.

Tarkus - Emerson is on record as stating this the definitive version of his famous composition. As much as I like this rendition, I don't share completely his unqualified endorsement, but who am I to argue with the original composer's intentions? Although a vastly evolved creature from ELP's feisty puppy from 1971, it shares a similar feel and scope to that of the version on the live Vivacitas album. Hughes however, completely undermines the song sections with an unwitting comedic effect not dissimilar to an Emerson, Gaye & Palmer parody. Can white men sing the blues? Who cares?, Can white men who sing like black men sing prog? (Nah) Shame really as the arrangement and playing is excellent and Bonilla's sinuous aggressive lead gives the piece an even more sinister feel than before. A quick word in praise of Joe Travers drumming, which is 'in the pocket' no fancy dan malarkey when the material dictates such and interactively supportive when far greater complexity is called for. He is clearly an extremely versatile and musical drummer with a sense of humour (i.e. he hits his cowbell occasionally)

Dreams - This can't be an original?, I mean it's just too damn loose limbed and languid for these chop meisters but wait, hold up... must be an Allman Brothers cover? Regardless, it features a rip snorting Emerson solo on organ and some electric piano tinkling from Roth (I think?) After 6 minutes of this delightful devilment we degenerate soon thereafter into a very long and numbing Dirge for Stuck Rock Band and Fish Salesman with Elephantiasis of the Larynx. Even if Glen Hughes sang through a drinking straw he would suck all the air out of the room. Truly a soul singer for the soulless.

Middle of a Dream - A studio track featuring some unadorned poignant piano from Emerson that carries a whiff of Satie's Gymnopedies before retreating to reveal a groove redolent of The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby. Nothing there to run to the nuclear bunker for just yet and even Hughes behaves himself on a catchy rock/pop tune that at the very least displays this unlikely ensemble of musicians may have carved themselves a lucrative niche in such a market had the collaboration endured.

I was dreading reviewing this to be honest as it pains me to have to bash anything that contains the work of my idol Emerson but I am glad to report it's way, way better than I envisaged.This is a very entertaining live album that is worth some of your time regardless of what particular flavour of rock tickles your palette. Therein however lies the dilemma that Boys Club would face had their association lasted: Lovers of prog metal and guitar shredding in general will adore and hate some of this in equal measure. Similarly, symphonic/classical rock enthusiasts will alternatively drool then spit at the contents. Yep, they are forever trapped between two stools (is that what 'lounge metal' means?) I'll leave you with a tiny tidbit from an interview with Keith Emerson and Marc Bonilla which illustrates, if nothing else, that neither were taking themselves too seriously on this outing:

Q - Were concerts with the Boys Club helping you get some relief after disappointments with ELP?

KE - ELP has always been regarded as my centrepiece, they're always going to be part of my history, regardless. Probably we got married too young, but what the hell, I'm still kind of friends with my ex-wife

MB - Frankly, we were glad to be the 'other woman'

Report this review (#237334)
Posted Saturday, September 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars This is not so much as Keith Emerson album as it is a showcase for Emerson Hughes and Bonilla.

There are two new songs on the album, Cover Me, by Hughes and Bonilla, and ans Middle Of A Dream, by all three featured artists. Both of these songs are completely forgettable. Hughes is passable on a nice cover of Procol Harum's classic Whiter Shade Of Pale. Emerson is surprisingly laid back on this track. I actually like it better than the original, where I find the organ arrangement annoying.

White Noise originally from Marc Bonilla's EE Ticket album, which featured Emerson, is a boogie fusion tune that demonstrates just why Emerson enjoys playing with the guy.

But the real reason for owning this album are the three ELP songs. Hoedown is okay, but I would prefer the actual bluegrass hoedown section (with Emerson playing harmonica) would have gone on longer. When I saw Emerson and Bonilla in concert a couple of years ago, they extended that section for a long time, and it was fantastic.

Nutrocker Suite is better. Emerson has added an intro from Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, and an ending from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sabre Dance, which add quite a bit to this crowd pleaser.

Tarkus. Now this version is great, despite Hughes' vocals. Bonilla does some nice fills on his guitar. But again, Emerson & Bonilla have since expanded on this piece in their live shows. Consider this just a taste.

Report this review (#241057)
Posted Wednesday, September 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars The partnership with Marc Bonilla brought the best studio effort from the great man (IMHHO). This live album not only brought both men together, but in addition the excellent vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes (Purple of course) joined as well for this live set.

Although the release of this old live set might be considered as rather bizarre (what was the need to wait for so long?), the result is quite decent to tell the truth. There are some rarities found here, like a cover from "Procol Harum": the hugely melodic, tender, super- catchy and beautiful "Whiter Shade Of Pale".

Glenn is of course sumptuous during his vocal interpretation. His warm and soulish tone is truly on par with the incredible original. What is quite a deception is that the organ part is quite discreet. Anyone would have hoped a gorgeous play form Keith; but this cover is more guitar oriented. After all, a good cover needs to be different from the original and this one fulfils its purpose (mainly thanks to Glenn).

The bluesy feel is also deeply present during "Cover Me", but after all, Glenn also influenced Mark III with this type of mood. Let's say that these moments aren't the best from this live offering. Just like the instrumental "White Noise".

Let's be fair: each one I guess were thrilled to discover three great ELP moments from this live set. And those ones won't be disappointed. A wild version of "Hoedown", a vigorous and quite different version of the brilliant " Tchaikovsky" interpretation available on "Pictures?". This time, a combination of organ/piano with guitar is being offered: a highlight for sure. I really like this version of "Nutrocker".

And everyone is waiting for the "Tarkus" rendition of course. By far the most legendary song from the great trio ("ELP"). I guess that you won't be surprised to hear that vocal parts are rather more funky/deeper than the Lake ones who were more symphonic/high pitched.

The whole sounds a bit more jazzy, and speedy. And I would lie if I told you that this version is better than the original. There is no better than the great studio original, but this one holds its own merit (the last third portion for instance which is closer to the original).

In all, I was expecting more from this group of musicians; but this album fullt deserves the three star rating. A good album for sure.

Report this review (#242146)
Posted Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars I fell upon this by "luck" (this remains to be seen whether good or bad) in the shelves of my library, and seeing that my weekly pile was a little weak-ly, I threw this on it for good measure. Lordy lordy Lord ?. Uuuuhhh?. I mean Emersony emerson Emerson!!!! ;o)))) I wasn't all that impressed when I first saw it and I figured it would good for laughs. NOT EVEN that!!! OK, hang on, this "thing" isn't catastrophic either?. Just the crystallization of three biggies meeting and maybe having fun, while trying to rake in the dough. Soooo we got Emerson on keys, strangely backed by Roth on keys as well?.. we've also got Bonilla on guitars?.. but strangely backed Wallace on guitars as well?.. and we got Hughes on vocals , but not bass?.. I'd rather have wished it the other way, since I personally think that Hughes is one of the most over-rated singers around and I much prefer him on bass. The good thing is that we don't hear him much, which is just as well. Oh yeah, before I forget: two bassists, but only one drummer?.. go figure!!!

Obviously the material used that night came from the three "tenors"' repertoire and a few covers. Without going too much over the Bonilla stuff, let's see what Emerson brought: Copland's Hoedown, Tchaikovsky's Nutrocker and the big Tarkus, which will probably hold the most interest. On the cover front, Procol's Shade Of Pale is the first number where we hear Hughes singing and he does an apt job, but then again I'm known to be pretty good art that song in the shower as well. There is also the Allman Bros' Dreams, a rather pleasant surprise, but ultimately not reaching the ABB classic level, Hughes being the worst perpetrator. The trio composed a special track, an awful 90's track, obviously impulsed by Hughes' eternal funk influences? it sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the concert.

Emerson intrudes on piano on Bonilla's White Noise, but let's get to Tarkus: well done, but considering the number of musicians (8) on stage, it's not that great a feat, so with Keith getting some back up, two basses to do Greg's job on bass and Glen trying to come to Greg waist in the vocal dept (and failing badly), the pressure is on the sole drummer Joe Travers, and would you guess it?!?!.... he's in over his head as to playing down pat the way Carl did it, but he's hardly ridiculous either. Overall you'd better not expect too much of this version of the armoureddilldo exploits. ;o)p)))))

Well of course everyone is entitled to make a living and such encounters are normal in a musician's life, but was there a need to immortalize this tour?? I guess some thought there was, but I won't disagree too much either?. I wasn't expecting much, and I got a little more than I expected, but I'm, glad I rented this album, cos I'd be embarrassed of putting it on my trade list. Jus t kidding Keith and Mark, but this is anything but essential.

Report this review (#247302)
Posted Friday, October 30, 2009 | Review Permalink

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