Keith Emerson and Greg Lake
April 30, 2010
(Barely) better than: Listening to ELP's three-album live set Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends over and over.
Let's get one thing straight: As a kid, I liked Emerson, Lake and Palmer. While all my "friends" were rocking out to AC/DC and Journey, I found geeky solace in the nerdy classical rock of ELP. I thought songs like "Lucky Man" and "Knife Edge" were somehow of a higher intellectual class than that FM radio rubbish. I let all that nonsense about brilliant instrumentation cloud my rock and roll senses.
Anyhow, urban myth has it that one Johnny Rotten once claimed to have started the Sex Pistols immediately upon hearing an ELP record. Judging by what Keith Emerson and Greg Lake brought to their performance as a duo Friday night at The Granada, I can understand Rotten's disdain.
The night began auspiciously as several elderly fans struggled out of their chairs to chant, "ELP, ELP," despite the fact that drummer Carl Palmer would not be performing. The show was scheduled to start at 8, but did not begin until closer to 8:45, causing many in attendance to grumble about things getting past their bedtimes.
When Lake and Emerson finally did appear, amidst a ton of amps and synthesizers, the sold-out crowd roared with pleasure. And when the duo started the night off with "From the Beginning," one of ELP's user-friendliest tunes, all was right in this geriatric world.
And then Lake announced that the next song was King Crimson's lovely "I Talk To The Wind," a song Lake claimed he had not sung in over 20 years, although it's been on every set list since the beginning of the current tour.
But I trifle; So far, two for two.
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Then it happened. The progressive rock floodgates opened and nothing could stop the onslaught of overindulgence. Lengthy cuts followed from ELP's disastrous sophomore album Tarkus, an album that has a cover nearly as ugly as the music contained within the grooves.
The show became all about Emerson's monstrosity of a keyboard set up. Taking up over half the stage, this relic of technology past looked more like a hideous prop than a functioning instrument. Music nerds in their 40s, 50s and 60s nodded along as Emerson soloed and soloed and soloed. I swear that I think Greg Lake was taking a nap before the first set thankfully ended.
The second set started off OK with "C'est La Vie," one of Lake's most clichéd love songs. But then it was back to Emerson--a great player to be sure, but why submit the audience to not one, but two lengthy, solo piano selections? Up next were two songs from Emerson's pre-ELP days when he was in a band called The Nice. And, believe me, there is nothing nice about songs like "America" and "Rondo."
Suddenly, the duo stopped and walked center stage. Out of nowhere came the most bizarre question-and-answer session I have ever witnessed. One person asked Lake what was his favorite bass guitar. Not much of an answer was given. Some guy asked Emerson if he remembered what synthesizer he played back in 1977. Perplexed, Emerson went back behind his barricade and the show started up again.
Yet only two more songs remained on the set list: "Pirates," an epic length sea faring tale that has somehow managed to stay a part of the band's live repertoire and "Lucky Man," a song with an actual melody. Go figure.
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Bruised and bewildered I made my way home, wondering what I had ever been thinking back in my youth.
Personal Bias: Look, I appreciate great musicians. Greg Lake and Keith Emerson are truly great musicians, but the overkill on display was headache inducing. One poor teenager sat behind me, lugged to the show by her parents. "This stuff is terrible," she said between sets. At least I had beer to deaden the pain.
By The Way: It was sitting room only at the Granada. No wonder tickets went from $50 to $100. And t-shirts were selling for $30. I guess elderly prog rock fans have deep pockets.
Random Note: No opening act. There could not have been one. There was simply no room, physically or symbolically.