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The Nice - Keith Emerson And The Nice: Vivacitas CD (album) cover


The Nice


Symphonic Prog

3.49 | 16 ratings

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3 stars Glass Jaw in Glasgow Foils Comeback Bout

Scene One - the offices of Sanctuary Records late 2003

CEO: Right boys, how about we release a live album from the last tour?

LEE JACKSON: Right on bonny lad!

BRIAN DAVISON: Great idea! make it a double with us and Keith's band as well

KEITH EMERSON: (looking round at his bandmates) Ok, what show should we use?

LEE JACKSON: Well, ya know bonny lads, it takes a few performances for everyone to get the numbers played in ya know, so one of the later gigs right, when we was loosened up proper an' all?

BRIAN DAVISON: Fab and groovy! Why not throw in that interview we did with Chris Welch too?

KEITH EMERSON: Yeah nice one Blinky, there were a few FOH mixing issues early on but these were fixed on subsequent shows, and I had gotten a few 'baby clangers' out of my fingers by then...

BRIAN DAVISON: Right on!, I was sh*tting bricks on the first one cos I hadn't played a rock gig for years, and we was all a but stiff on that opening night man!

CEO: Thank you gentlemen, we are all agreed then? We will use the very first show recorded in Glasgow.

LEE JACKSON: Am I facing the right way here?

And so it came to pass that the reformed Nice plus Emerson's hand-picked touring band were captured in all their nerve wracked glory on the opening gig of a British tour.

God knows why Sanctuary went ahead and decided to release this performance to the waiting world, as it suffers from some glaring deficiencies that would have been ironed out further along the scheduled itinerary.

Emerson's playing is particularly sloppy on great portions of this, with rushed timing, late entries and 'baby clangers' spoiling the performances. The organ, piano and synth sounds are all spot on, but he must now, looking back, have wished his record company had let the band get warmed up properly before going anywhere near the 'record' button.

Even under perfect conditions, Jackson's vocals would be described as 'gritty' but are reduced here on Hang on to a Dream to something approaching 'sandpaper on the soul' and despite Lee's passionate and sincere delivery of this great song, Hardin's lyrics sound like they are delivered via the digestive tract of a small furry mammal.

The riff to Van Halen's Jump is shoehorned into She Belongs to Me and not surprisingly, sticks out like a porcupine hiding in a sock.


Similarly, there is a completely inappropriate sampled dance loop triggered during the (shambolic) intro to Karelia Suite where to add insult to injury, Keith misses his entry cue entirely.


The inclusion of The Cry of Eugene is a real treasure, as it has always been one of my favourite tracks from the 1st album, and receives a full and sympathetic arrangement befitting the original. Dave Kilmister really shines here, and he displays a real insight and empathy with what is required to replicate the original spirit of the Nice for a modern audience.

This guitarist appears to be one of the very few (along with Marc Bonilla) that Emerson deems worthy of sharing time with. During the course of the concert, Kilmister turns his hand to blues, jazz, rock and classical with seamless ease and it is no wonder that Roger Waters plucked him for his touring band from Emerson recently.

Little Arabella also gets a new lick of paint here and the band sound like they are having loads of fun on this enduring pastiche of tongue in cheek jazz. The organ sound here is spine tinglingly good and despite not replicating the intentionally cheesy 'Errol Garner' strains of the original, showcases one of Emo's better contributions.

Rather incongruous 'flanging' effect is applied on the vocal though....

America has long outstayed its welcome in the Nice/ELP repertoire but to their credit, they have at least attempted to veer away from a previously predictable live formula with the inclusion of the original pipe organ intro and an extended jazzy piano middle section.

Like so much of this record, the music is really good once they get going, (and the 'butterflies in the tummy' are safely ensnared in the net.)

There are also some mix related anomalies encountered, with Kilmister's inspired Sabre Dance being practically inaudible and various other instances when instruments either disappear entirely in 'mid lick' or blare out at inopportune moments when refinement is what is desired etc

As I noted in my review of Five Bridges the song Country Pie still remains a firm fave in my Nice pantheon of greats and Lee, Blinky and Keith still exude plenty of excitement and fire more than 30 years hence. (At sufficient volume you can't hear creaking bones)

It should be noted that these concerts started off as a promotional exercise for Emerson's solo piano album Emerson plays Emerson and the inclusion of Davison and Jackson was Keith's solution to the problem of replicating the 'bass and drums' pieces on that particular record. From that point on, the entourage just seemed to snowball to include his young hand picked charges now called 'the Keith Emerson band'

Williams and Riley are both very accomplished young players who have studied their chosen discipline at various educational establishments in the UK. However, despite their flawless credentials and having 'ticked all the right boxes' strike me as being 'proggers by numbers' i.e. they can play the notes perfectly as they appear in front of them, but cannot even begin to guess 'how' they got there.

The band rendition of Tarkus is very well played but does not veer much from the album version and just like America I personally could live without ever hearing another version of this creaking classic again. Full marks for the energy and enthusiasm though, on what is, even 30 years on, a fiendishly difficult piece to play.

The remaining tracks are all enjoyable, but certainly don't constitute anything you have heard before played any better.

Hoedown gets dusted down again and like a pensioner after one facelift too many is starting to resemble the 'Burt Reynolds' of classical adaptations.

Fanfare for the Common Man - see 'Burt Reynolds'

Honky Tonk - Featuring 'Dick Emery' on harmonica. Keith, you are a bona fide rock star, you know damn fine from backstage debauches what a 'mouth organ' should be used for.

Blade of Grass/A Cajun Ally - beautifully played solo piano performances from Keith showcasing his aforementioned piano album. Even if you have the studio versions these are worth hearing as Emo live always provides a few delightful twists and turns to his original conceptions.

The interview with music journalist Chris Welch is good fun and Emerson, Jackson and Davison all sound relaxed and in high spirits but once you have heard this once it is unlikely you will wish to repeat the experience.

I think if you are wanting to 'get into' the Nice for the first time this is not the best place to start. You would be better getting hold of one of the plethora of compilations that are around containing their most accessible work as a starting point.

I was so looking forward to this album and the fact that the venue was Glasgow (my home town) just added to the anticipation. Therefore this is a great disappointment, not an unequivocal turkey to be sure, but I can only repeat my wish that the 'great and the good' at Sanctuary visit a gun shop in their local mall and do the decent thing.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

RIP Brian Davison

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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