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


Keith Emerson


Crossover Prog

2.85 | 19 ratings

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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'

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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