Emerson Lake & Palmer
40th Anniversary Reunion Concert,
High Voltage Festival – July 25, 2010
It has been a long and interesting journey for ELP. Formed in 1970, the UK music press dubbed them the first supergroup. They were a band composed of integral parts from three big UK bands of the time: The Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster. Imagine just how super they might have been if Hendrix had not died as he was also rumored to be interested in joining the trio as well. ELP were the first band to combine rock, classical and jazz into a new and unique musical fusion that sounded like no one else, Today they are still today worshiped by fans around the world, and derided by hip critics as utterly pretentious. At the end of the video-doc on the new DVD when asked to characterize what ELP meant, Keith answers tongue in cheek, “Extra Large Parts, (Lol), or Everyone Loves Potatoes, that’s really what ELP stands for. (Lol)”
I will digress here before getting into the concert and outline my own introduction to the band. It was a natural evolution, which, began early, progressed from musical fandom into involvement in the periphery of “the business”, then ultimately a lifelong love of music of all sorts.
I was raised on records… In 1958 at the ripe old age of 10 years old, I grabbed my allowance, ran to Sherman Clay music store, and bought my first rock record – “It’s Only Make Believe” by Conway Twitty. I promptly fell in love – hard – with rock and roll. Watching Dick Clark’s Bandstand and Saturday Night Show became my religion. I was fortunate to be able to see them as my parents had just bought our first black and white TV set. Race music had entered the white mainstream a few years before, so my, and most, white kids lives would never be the same afterwards.
Next came the teenage years. We took yearly family trips back to Colorado visiting my grandparents. It was so cool, I got to sleep in the basement and listen late at night to the 100,000-watt radio station KOMA out of Oklahoma City. Bang! Lying in bed nights, I heard over two consecutive summers – The Who “I Can’t Explain”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and “My Generation” (1964-1965). That turned my head inside out.
A finer man there never was than grandpa as he gifted me one Christmas with a subscription to Melody Maker magazine from the UK. There a small-classified advert led me to Records LTD on Dugdale Street, in Nuneaton, UK and one Peter Auerbach who proceeded to supply me with all the UK 7” vinyl goodies I could afford. That was how I discovered The Move via their 1st 1966 single, “Night of Fear” on the Deram label, followed by many others including The Nice single “America” (1967). I became an Anglophiliac.
I graduated from high school in 1966, got my first car, and bought one of those nifty RCA Automatic 45 RPM car record players MODEL AP-1. It was installed under the dashboard and hooked up directly into the radio. Now I could cruise and pick my own playlist, which consisted of lots of UK pop/ psych and US garage bands.
Meanwhile my UK connection was now turning me on to LPs as well, including the first three albums by The Nice. I also then was hanging out with a cat name “Big Mike” Goodman who got regular handbills from the Fillmore West in SF, so we began making pilgrimages up to “the City” for concerts.
In December 1969, we headed up to see The Chambers Brothers, The Nice & King Crimson. The bad news was that, so the story goes, on the road up from LA, Crimson had broken up and the opening act was instead AUM (a local jamming blues-rock power trio led by Wayne Ceballos). The good news was that The Nice and Keith Emerson’s keyboard playing knocked me down flat on the floor. For the most part, they played their third album THE NICE, and Keith went off completely. As a band the Nice did a good job of showcasing his prodigious talents, amazing keyboard technique and showmanship. To this day that remains in my mind one of the most amazing concerts I ever witnessed. After the show, we went to “Tommy’s”, a famous SF Burger joint known as rock star hangout, for a hit the road meal and lo and behold, there was Keith all alone downing a burger and fries after Midnight. We said hello, had a very short chat and got on our way back to the San Joaquin Valley digging on Wolfman Jack’s midnight howling from his 100,000-watt station in Chula Vista. Ah, those were the days…
The Nice was fated to break up however. The seeds had been planted for a supergroup that would follow and in many ways change the face of rock music, as we knew it back then. Emerson Lake and Palmer was born a short time later in 1970.
It was almost two years after The Nice at the Fillmore that ELP first toured the US in 1971 and I saw them in the East Bay at The Berkeley Community Theater, a short while before TARKUS was done. They played the first album, which in my mind still stands up as the purest distillation of their musical essence. The band’s arrangements and playing were impeccable. Keith’s performance was relatively tame in comparison to The Nice, but visions of the bands greatness to come were definitely on display that evening.
I saw them several more times during their long career, reaching the heights of composition and showmanship perhaps with BRAIN SALAD SURGERY, and the depths with LOVE BEACH. I also got to see them during their BLACK MOON US Tour in 1998. Many fans didn’t like the album, as it was a bit more song oriented. I did and they performed it great + added a few “oldies” as well. I got backstage passes from Rhino Records for producing the labels “Prog Box” and took my then 17-year-old #1 son to the show. It was nice chatting afterwards and the band seemed genuinely happy to be doing their thing again.
In 2010, to commemorate their 40-year anniversary, they were invited to reform and headline “London’s 1st Annual High Voltage Rock Festival” on July 25th. After 12 years of various solo projects, they decided to get back together and began extensive rehearsals. When I heard about it, I wondered how it would turn out. I myself am no longer a “Prog head”, never really was in reality as my musical attention span always was prone to genre bending listening flights of fancy, and now today I’ve listened to more music than I can remember, some say too much.
In addition, back then, the music they created at 20+ years old was completely original, incredibly complex and conceptual, in many ways a revolution in the context of rock. Their shows were new, creative and majestic in terms of both music and presentation. So the question is, at 60+ years of age, after not playing together for so long could they pull the whole thing off and not be a parody of their former selves. At midpoint through the concert, the answer to that had become obvious. They put on a great 90-minute show in spite of having to trim their set on the fly by 20 minutes due to the previous band running over its time allotment.
Musically, their performance was unbelievably good considering their time off and complexity of the music they make. In the old days, much of the time they played as young men possessed. Today 40 years later the music at times had a touch of swing to it, at times, a bluesy inflection was added in places and overall it contained a sense of emotional depth that only comes with the years passing. The band clearly now feels how much that music has meant to their lives as musicians, as well as the lives of their fans, old and new.
Personal highlights were “Karn Evil 9: Ist Impression – Part 2”, “Knife Edge”, “Tarkus” “Farewell to Arms” (Greg’s Lake’s lyrics and vocals gave me chills), “Pictures At An Exhibition”, and their show ending medley – the hit single “Fanfare for the Common Man”/ “Drum Solo”/ “Rondo”. Aaron Copeland, Carl’s amazing drum spotlight, Dave Brubeck, all musically interpreted by Keith Emerson underlined by Greg’s rock solid bottom end. That’s classic rock and roll – ELP style!
After 40 years, it’s a joy watching this DVD and see ELP prove they could still put on a great show, performing their original neo-classic rock-jazz interpretations and powerful “Prog Pop” songs. It still is remarkable to me that just three men with their instruments can make such full dynamic music that sounds as unique today as it did yesterday. Perhaps the best way to summarize the bands place in music history is Carl Palmer’s quote from the Special Bonus feature on the DVD, a 20-minute concert documentary with interviews featuring the band members, close friends and journalist Chris Welch. He proudly proclaims, “We were definitely the first of the great rock and roll shows.” Indeed!