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"We rehearsed for five weeks, which I could never understand why we needed to rehearse that long, Upon hearing the recordings, maybe five weeks was not long enough. It wasn't to the standard that I liked and I didn't think it sounded that good" (Carl Palmer)
They sound like a hungover pub band bluffing it under the delusion that only friends and family are in attendance. On the evidence of this superannuated bumper pay day that the trio repaid with their greatest hits karaoke, it saddens me to report that ELP are no longer even the best ELP tribute band around. Many of their missed entries and cues conspire to sound rushed and tardy, too early and too late which makes for a very nervy listening experience for this self-confessed ELP fanboy. Bum notes proliferate throughout making parts of Take a Pebble and Fanfare for the Common Man stray perilously close to self-parody. (I could swear Emerson is wearing mittens during Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2) Musicians of this calibre however, cannot be uniformly abject for 90 minutes (which is exactly how long a soccer match lasts but it probably feels longer seeing as how we're watching Chelsea's pensioners, one of whom is certainly worthy of a red card or failing that, a red face Greg...) The FOH mixing boffins were clearly unable to tame the sonic gremlins that spoil much of this performance: the drums at the outset sound alternately like Tupperware surdos or timpanic watering cans. The Barbarian they portray here would probably break into your apartment, dust the place, tidy up the rooms and leave behind some baked fruit scones. Similarly, the extant Tarkus critter has been lobotomised into some sort of de-fanged proggie moggie who answers to the name of 'Frisky'. Lake's bass on Knife Edge approaches 'twangy brittle' rather than the required 'guttural brooding' although in mitigation, the aforementioned knob twiddlers have managed to perform some much needed running repairs to the appalling sound quality in the interim. On the up side, there appears a genuinely innovative moment re the unconventional piano intro to Lake's habitually guitar led From the Beginning which explores the implied jazz flavour of his 9th chord vamp quite beautifully. The synth patch used on Keith's outro solo is alas, a disaster, coming across like a busking Rolf Harris armed with Casio's flagship stylophone. Touch and Go lives up to it's associations with a completely fumbled/dropped ball intro from Keith that seems plain vanilla senile (How does this one go again lads? high dotage/dosage?) but settles down thereafter into a reasonably robust reading of what is probably the only classic post 80's ELP number by any permutation of those initials. I'm trying hard to accentuate what few positives there are but why is everything on here just so damn half-baked, wimpy and soulless?
"For me, it's just a pride thing Unless it's as good as what it can be, then I can't do it. I would have carried on if it had been as good as it was. I don't believe it was and I don't believe it would have ever gotten back to that standard". (Carl Palmer)
The piano improvisation through which Emerson negotiates from Take a Pebble to the Tarkus medley is brilliantly realised and the resultant Stones of Years is spared the indignity of degenerating into any anticipated 'Gallstones of Tears'. Things have perked up considerably hereabouts and Keith's organ solo is a veritable highlight of the set. Rather bizarrely, Greg deems it prudent to attenuate the feedback present on this number by erm, shouting 'feedback x 3' into the microphone as if this will somehow make it less noticeable? Worse than that, the now spherical blimp has the chutzpah to regale us with Mass without a trace of knowing irony. Although it's hardly a stand-out in their songbook, it's refreshing to hear a live version of Farewell to Arms from the criminally neglected Black Moon album. This has a quiet and understated dignity about it that survives Lake's habitually treacly 'spoken tag-line' bathos and the odd lapse into poorly digested Elgar betrayed by the arrangement. The grazing anti-warhorse that is Lucky Man benefits from a slyly ingenious piano intro which seems rather wasted on what has always been for me, a very insubstantial ballad. What weight it might possess is further undermined by it's author forgetting the lyrics to the first verse. Keith's gritty and ballsy organ certainly beefs things up considerably but once again, this is a brownie with delusions of being a three tiered wedding cake. To be fair to Prog's favourite law firm, (Emerson, Lake & Palmer est 1970 prop G. Lake esq) they offer a very spirited and in places, moving retread of Pictures at an Exhibition which follows the latter day truncated versions as contained on the likes of the Return of the Manticore. Here the band at least exemplify the hard won lesson that despite the stubborn excesses of their Prog lineage, 'less' is finally acknowledged as begetting a more satisfying and economic 'more'.
Much of the raggedness and inaccuracies that crept into Emerson's playing circa the early 90's were attributable to a trapped nerve condition that eventually required corrective surgery. Although the operation was considered a complete success it did have a debilitating effect on Keith's pianistic abilities thereafter. He had to pare down and relax his playing style somewhat compared to the shredding pyrotechnics of his 'gun-slinger' years. However, based on the evidence of the subsequent Keith Emerson Band studio album and Live in Moscow recordings with Marc Bonilla, his playing is unfailingly top notch on both so I'm at a loss as to why there are so many clinkers on High Voltage
By this point ELP didn't even have either 'Ham or Cheese' to offer their famished but faithful fanbase but we can at the very least finally answer that nagging question first posed in 1971: Are You Ready Eddy to pull those faders down? Yep, and turn out the lights when you leave the building thanks, this show ended 30 years ago.