06 February 2008

Welcome back my friends...

I've spent the day today reacquainting myself with an old friend.

Before leaving this morning to pick up my car at the garage, I grabbed my copies of the first two Emerson Lake and Palmer official bootleg boxes. 15 total discs of shows from 1971-1977, mostly focusing on 1972 and 1974, with one brief excursion each to 1971 and 1977. Generally speaking sound quality is...variable, and I'm being kind.

But I didn't buy these expecting stellar sound quality.

You see, I am an avid collector of live music, and ELP is a band generally speaking somewhat less frequently or positively presented in a live setting on record in major release format. Yes, there's the 3-LP WBMFTTSTNE release from 1974 (IIRC), which is highly regarded. There's the somewhat less well regarded In Concert/Works Live release. There's Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which is actually better presented in the 3rd bootleg box to the official single CD release. And then there's a spate of re-releases or King Biscuits or live releases from the late 1990s, near the end.

I know when the bootleg boxes were announced there was a general feeling of disappointment over quality...the packaging is slight (although the boxes themselves are nice and sturdy), the sound quality, as I mentioned, is variable. Each show is listenable, so it's not as if you are getting discs of noise and distorted static...at the same time, the first two boxes can't be confused for multitrack board recordings by any stretch of the imagination. Having said this, the third box does include a pair of nice FM broadcasts from 1992 and 1993...after the height of their career, but solid performances indeed, and ones I listen to frequently. I still don't have the fourth box...but I should pick it up at some point.


These shows, these performances...raw and rough as they are...show a band that had no peers at the time. There is an almost palpable energy oozing from the speakers like some primordial force. Ignore the rough quality and pop in the Buffalo 1974 show, and be blown away by the sheer cacophony and ordered chaos that is this performance of Ginastera's "Toccata." I'd wager you'd be blown away. This is a band before the rot had set in...still hungry, still wanting to take over the world with their bastard mix of jazz and classical and blues and rock, with the wildest, dirtiest, most distorted Hammond organ on the face of this or any other planet.

It amazes me today that of the big six bands (Crimson, Yes, ELP, Tull, Floyd, Genesis), ELP is most often overlooked. Perhaps it's because of how precipitously they fell...picture Love Beach or In the Hot Seat. Even at their most pop, Genesis never hit quite as close to rock bottom as either of those. Yet, even on those two releases, there are moments of redemption (the former gives us "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman," while the latter gives us "Hand of Truth," and on the Japanese release, "Hammer it Out") worthy of note and attention.

I only saw ELP live once...in 1996, opening for Jethro Tull at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel NJ. Despite their opening length set (only played 65 minutes, if memory serves), they put on a great show. Keith wasn't riding the Hammond, or plunging daggers into it, and Greg's voice was not the teen aged choir boy voice he once had, but the performance was stately and solid. They certainly blew Tull out of the water on this particular night...at least, that's what this audient's ears remember.

It's a shame they couldn't pull their egos together one last time to create a proper send off album. It's a shame that right now, the tepid, mostly vapid In the Hot Seat will be their final studio recorded output. It's great that all three musicians remain active, but...when a good bit of each's set is based around ELP material, one can't help but wonder...

93 93/93


Bob B. said...

I never picked up any of the "official bootlegs", simply because I've always had more and better recordings from trading (probably a lot of the same shows that they tried to resell, come to think of it).

I've always thought of ELP's demise as a great example of "live by the sword, die by the sword". If you've got the guts to churn out rock variations on Bartok or Ginastera, there can't be a graceful end-game. :) The only thing that COULD have happened was collapsing under their own weight.

Bill K. said...

Considering that I have CDR boots of...I'd guess...half of the first two boxes, plus at the very least the Wiltern 1993 show from the 3rd box, yeah, a good bit of it has been around for a long time. They caught a lot of the same flak that Zappa did when he released the Beat the Boots stuff...they just tossed it out there, warts and all. Yeah, it's always better to pay the artist than a boot seller, but...I think people were hoping for 7 discs of soundboard quality 1971 and 1972 stuff, and were sorely disappointed.

And incredibly valid point there about the end. Well said as well.

Adam said...

(the former gives us "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman," while the latter gives us "Hand of Fate,"

"Hand of Truth," natch. Great, great track and then it's all downhill pretty precipitously from there.

I, like you, saw ELP for the only time on the Tull tour in 96, and was quite impressed, even if the modular Moog was sorely missed for visual reasons. Couple of bold setlist choices, played well I thought. And I've honestly always slightly preferred the modern Greg Lake's voice with a bit of grit in it to the old choirboy. Not sure why, but for some reason the ravages of age seem to suit him, whereas they've mostly destroyed the likes of, say, Ian Anderson.

Bill K. said...

Which says something about how long it has been since I've listened to that particular album.

Oh, I rather enjoyed the show we saw...ELP actually had better sound than Tull did, and their performance had less of the 'going through the motions' feel that the Tull set did. I think, had I seen Tull on the first leg of the Roots to Branches tour, my opinion might have been far different...the shows I have heard from 1995 are a different beast all together.

Adam said...

Yeah, it's easily been 10 years since I've listened to the whole album, which is a painful experience I'm unlikely to repeat soon.

And Tull was remarkably good the night I saw them, I think it was either the first or second night of the tour, so maybe they were slightly fresher. Although that was certainly Ian at the very depths of his Tom Waits-y croakiness. Nice to see that he's recovered somewhat.

Bill K. said...

The show we saw, Tull had a very bad mix. On top of that, it was apparently the beginning of the cold war between IA and Matthew Pegg, who, after Ian introduced him, turned his back on the audience and away from the rest of the band.

Not a lot of good vibes there.

Adam said...

Matthew Pegg? Show I saw was Jonathan Noyce.

Bill K. said...

Absolutely certain it was Matthew...I remember the buildup as IA was introducing him, and then the stifled gasp from the crowd when he turned away.

Adam said...

You sure you're not thinking of an earlier Tull show you might have seen or something? 92-94ish was when Matt Pegg was with them on and off, far as I can tell. 95 on has been Jonathan Noyce. Who of course was like 12 at that time.

Bill K. said...

I just looked it up...and I have only seen Tull twice...once was 1989-ish on the Rock Island tour, the other was 1996 with ELP. And yes, Matt was with Tull in 1992-1994-ish, and I have no idea what the story is, but...I distinctly remember it, but I can't be remembering it, because the history shows that it was Noyce on that tour. Yet I remember it. And I can';t for the life of me make the two things connect.

firefly said...

Two great bands is all I have to say, ELP and Tull. They were both back in Dayton, OH, in early 2000, both great shows.
Martin Barre was still w/ them last year in Kettering, OH.
I heard ELP lost money on the orchestra show, which was put out on a live album, and I have it, kind of a blue night cover.
But when they played the Nut House aka Nutter Center in Dayton in early 2000 not many people came out but they were great. I saw them both years ago, too, at Hara Arena when Keith came out of the floor and did Hoedown on his hand held synth (moog), and Greg did Ce'La ve sp.? on his heart-shaped guitar. What a lucky man!_!
PS. Greg toured with Asia in Japan long ago, too.