What does it sound like?:
Is there a more forgotten and derided band from the prog heyday than ELP? I think not, but that reputation is largely unjustified – there first five albums, ELP, Pictures at an Exhibition, Tarkus, Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery contain some excellent inventive envelope pushing music, not to mention superlative playing by the trio. In hindsight, the extended three year break they took after the last of those albums was a huge mistake as when they eventually returned to the fold it was as three individuals rather than as a cohesive unit, and they were really on a downward spiral from then on. They made a decent stab at reforming in the early nineties, producing the not at all bad Black Moon album, but it was shortlived certainly in terms of studio work at least, although they carried on as a live outfit for some years, albeit rather living on past glories. This multi album set pulls together five live albums from throughout their career, although oddly it omits their two most well known efforts, the aforementioned Pictures at an Exhibition plus the gargantuan triple Welcome Back My Friends set – perhaps licensing issues are to blame, who knows?
The first show here is one of the best in the set, their performance at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, which unbelievably was only their second ever gig. It’s certainly a wild and fiery show, capturing their raw energy and showcasing a superb Pictures plus chunks of what was to become their first album, and laying down a marker as to what was to follow in the next few years.
The second record is taken from 1974’s California Jam show, four years and five albums later, recorded at the end of the Brain Salad Surgery tour, and has a similar track listing to Welcome Back My Friends. Annoyingly the first two songs were not recorded, so it’s not quite the full show. Nevertheless, it represents the band at their musical and commercial peak, and is well worth checking out.
We then move on to the grand folly of The Works tour, accompanied originally by an orchestra, an idea that almost bankrupt the band. Recorded at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 1977, the set concentrates largely on the solo pieces the members contributed to the Works album, with the orchestra surprisingly most effective on Greg Lake’s ballads. There’s also an extended Fanfare, plus another stab at Pictures to send everyone home happy. Overall, it’s a good set, yet in some ways strangely subdued as though their enthusiasm for the whole ELP idea had rather waned during their extended hiatus.
The fourth show is from the reformation tour, taped at the Albert Hall in 1992. Pleasingly introduced by Alan Freeman, this combines material from the Black Moon record with a powerful run through of the highlights of the back catalogue, with a good version of Pirates and a frenetic closer of Fanfare/America/Rondo. This is a good set from a perhaps unlikely comeback and goes some way to recapturing the energy of their early seventies performances, although Emerson was already suffering hand problems.
Finally we come to the 1997 show from Phoenix. The band was somewhat on the wane by then, being reduced to supporting bands like Tull and Purple, but somehow on this performance, the surprise package of this box, they throw in a super show. Despite Emerson only having the use of three fingers on his right hand, the band are on fire, once again playing as a unit rather than three separate individuals, and new life is injected into old warhorses such as Hoedown, Knife Edge and Bitches Crystal. A fine way to leave the stage for the final time.
Overall then, an impressive if expensive look at the band’s live shows over the years.
What does it all *mean*?
The band recently marked its fiftieth anniversary, although sadly only Carl Palmer was still around to see it after the untimely deaths of his band mates.
Goes well with…
Reliving the glory days of prog.
Might suit people who like…