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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Live at Montreux 1997 CD (album) cover

LIVE AT MONTREUX 1997

Emerson Lake & Palmer

Symphonic Prog


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Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Booking Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the Montreux Jazz festival in 1997 must have seemed like forcing three very square pegs into an elliptical hole. Not because the event was actually a jazz music festival (it wasn't), but because the trio had been considered obsolete for over two decades already: chart-topping superstars reduced to a legacy act, playing the same old hits for their aging fans. Emerson even dedicated one song in this set ("Honky Tonk Train Blues", hardly a model of Progressive Rock) to his mum, watching from the balcony.

But you'd never guess from this late gig that the band was only a year away from its final breakup. Keith Emerson's dexterity had suffered after his radial nerve (not Brain Salad) surgery in 1993. But he could still attack his keyboards with surprising gusto, in the Tarkus chestnut "Bitches Crystal", and elsewhere.

Greg Lake's ailing voice was likewise no longer a pristine thing of beauty. But as I noted in an older review of the band's Royal Albert Hall performance (recorded five years earlier), the rust in his pipes gave his singing more character, as heard in the low opening verses of "Knife Edge".

And Carl Palmer simply refuses to age.

The material here won't be unfamiliar to diehard fans. This last phase of ELP's career is well documented on the "Live in Poland" CD (from a show only two weeks before this one), and on the lopsided "Then and Now" compilation. And a DVD of the same Montreux concert was released in 2004. I haven't seen it, and frankly don't want to: on compact disc the trio sounds a lot younger than they probably looked in 1997.

The set-list too won't hold any surprises, from the obligatory "Karn Evil 9" Welcome-Back-My-Friends introduction to the usual overkill finale: a 19-minute collision of Brubeck, Copland, Bach and Orff, complete with drum solo and ritual Hammond organ abuse. That trademark vulgar showmanship still raises hackles among the narrow-minded Blues Orthodoxy crowd, but screw them: what you see with your head in the sand is the same view as someone with his head up his ass, after all.

The performances gain strength as the concert continues, by the end of Disc One recapturing (at least audibly) some of the rapport too often lost behind the triple arsenal of egos (and in "Take a Pebble" finally airing a little ersatz jazz on the shores of Lake Geneva). The abbreviated "Tarkus" suite - actually an extended "Stones of Years", with a longer, atypically sensitive Emerson solo - proves yet again how innovative that classic always was. And the climactic segue to the end of "Pictures at an Exhibition" was a perfectly judged moment of high musical bombast.

I've never been the biggest fan of the band's Mussorgsky upgrade, and especially its hyperbolic "Great Gates of Kiev" finish. But the crescendo here is undeniably exciting, with Greg Lake's melodramatic doggerel ("Death is Life") becoming suddenly relevant as the band approached its omega. The lyrics may have sounded trite in 1972, but in 1997 expressed all the frustrated optimism felt by closet Progheads enjoying a rebirth of interest in a style of music long considered dead when it was only dormant.

Regardless of how poorly ELP rode "the tides of fate" after the band's mid-'70s peak, and how little effort the resurrected trio made to transcend the faded glory of those bygone years, the mere fact that they were still alive and kicking and attracting crowds in the late 1990's is reason enough to award this gig a bonus fourth star, as the band was nearing the finish line.

Report this review (#1536925)
Posted Monday, March 7, 2016 | Review Permalink
AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
3 stars This Montreux concert is an ELP performance from 1997. I owned the DVD and loved the music so it was worth checking out the CD.

ELP in the late 90s were a cohesive unit and put a lot of effort into this performance but they are not as good as they used to be, comparing to the dynamic energy of Isle of Wight 1970 and the exuberance of California Jam 1974. This is a very impressive setlist overall with some of the best the band have done. The supergroup loosen up a bit midway through the concert, perhaps that is the effect of Knife Edge, such a great song. Take A Pebble is the definitive highlight for me, an incredible song the band seem to enjoy, and a song that drew me to this band in the first place.

The Montreux concert showcases the best ELP tracks such as Karn Evil 9, Hoedown, where Emerson gets to use his cool mini keyboard, Knife Edge, Tarkus and Pictures medley, and the finale medley consisting of Fanfare for the Common Man, Rondo, and other pieces. The tracks are all played competently but some of the magic is lost in these performances. Emerson dazzles on the blindingly fast solo renditions but it is piano kanoodling at its highest order.

Which brings me to the big problem of the concert. The band are not as precise or tight as usual. Emerson is a Tiger in the spotlight but he muddles up some of his triggerfingers solos, Lake could do with some Brain Surgery as he misses cues and struggles with the vocals at times, and Palmer is a bit detached, lost in his own private Tarkus tank. They even play an Emerson Lake and Powell number in Touch and Go. So it is a bit confused and lacking in quality in places. However with all its flaws, ultimately here is one of the last big concerts from the legends of Symphonic Prog.

Report this review (#1824610)
Posted Sunday, November 19, 2017 | Review Permalink

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