Keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/vocalist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer took the music world by the storm in the seventies and sold 40 million albums by taking what The Moody Blues did on "Days of Future Passed," pairing rock with orchestral accompaniment, to its next logical step by playing rock variations of classical music with Emerson's keys taking the place of lead guitar. They weren't bound to the progressive/symphonic rock genre though, as they created great acoustic guitar-led ballads, covers of ragtime numbers, and even a Christmas carol.
All three proved to be talented musicians who didn’t shy away from incorporating solos into their work and seemed to have more in common with jazz musicians than their rock peers. They were pretentious and self-indulgent, evidenced by the double album "Works" where Emerson's "Piano Concerto No. 1" is an entire album side. It was no surprise when ELP and many of their prog-rock brethren were knocked to the wayside in the late '70s with the uprising of punk and the return of the three-minute song by rock 'n' roll bands like Van Halen. ELP disbanded in 1979.
During the '80s, two-thirds of the band reunited twice as Emerson, Lake & Powell and 3 with Emerson and Palmer. They reunited in the 1990s for a couple of forgettable albums as evidenced by the setlist here that features nothing from them during this performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 7, 1997. Coinciding with the trio's 40th anniversary, Eagle Rock Entertainment has released 'Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Live at Montreux 1997' on Blu-ray.
They open strongly with a rousing "Karnevil 9 – 1st Impression Part 2", which features one of the best introductory lines in a rock song: "Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends". Immediately apparent is the powerful bass coming from Palmer's two kick drums. It is near thunderous through the subwoofer and may be too much for some.
ELP runs through a greatest-hits set that reveals the breadth of their work. It's obvious to hear why the lyrical "From the Beginning" was their highest charting single and finds them at their most restrained. They play boogie-woogie on Meade Lux Lewis' "Honky Tonk Train Blues" and prog out on the "Tarkus/Pictures at Exhibiton" combo that runs almost 20 minutes. Only a couple of the songs didn't come from their heyday. "Touch and Go" was a single by ELPowell, and "Creole Dance" an adaptation of Alberto Ginastera's "Suite de Danzas Criollas" by Emerson only appeared on ELP 's "Live At The Royal Albert Hall".
The staging is minimal, as is the interaction of the appreciative audience. The three musicians, dressed in different clothes of black and white, and their gear are all that appears on the stage. There is the occasional perfunctory use of colored lights that may as well have been skipped.
Emerson provides a bit of rock theatrics to liven things up during the evening. During "Hoedown" from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo", he takes center stage with a Moog device resembling a guitar fretboard that shoots out a brief flash of fireworks, bringing to mind KISS' Ace Frehley. After Palmer shows off his chops and loses his shirt during a five-minute solo, the encore concludes with "Toccata in D Minor" featuring Emerson's signature sign-off as he beats up a ragged-looking Hammond organ that squeals ungodly noises as he throws it around and sticks knives into it. He does some showboating as he lies on the stage with the organ on top of him and plays it upside down. He then plays a keyboard upside down on while standing on grand piano.
ELP's music is certainly not for everyone and their detractors have legitimate complaints, but that's no matter to those of us who enjoy them. This is a very good though familiar performance by the band.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment brings ' Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Live at Montreux 1997' to high-definition on a region-free BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed in a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video is presented with a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The source is clean and there is very good contrast in the images. Black levels are good though they could be richer if objects weren't constantly bathed under bright white lights. What limited colors there are, most of which are seen worn by audience as band takes a bow at the end of the main set, are moderately warm and saturated, such as Lake's Brown bass and the gold cymbals from Palmer's kit. Fleshtones are consistent throughout.
The picture is sharp and objects are clearly defined. Close-ups reveal a great deal of detail, especially on Emerson. The viewer can see the hairs on his arms, the individual keys, and the seemingly endless knobs, wires and input jacks that make up his gear. On occasion, there is poor shadow delineation that swallows up some items on stage, such as parts of Palmer's kit.
The audio options are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM 2.0. I mainly listened to the DTS track. The PCM does a comparable job to the DTS track, but the DD fidelity is lacking.
As previously mentioned, bass lovers are going to love this disc, as both Lake and Palmer put the subwoofer to the test throughout, especially during Palmer's solo when he just uses the two kick drums. The disc has great dynamic range as Emerson's keys hit sharp, high notes, and Lake's acoustic ballads like "Lucky Man" reveal how gently the band can play. The band is positioned well in the soundscape, sounding slightly louder in channels relative to their position on stage. The music fills the surrounds, as does the audience that can be heard clapping along at beginning of "Knife Edge".
While the music sounds great, it's unfortunate that the vocals aren't well balanced, likely a source issue. Not only do Lake's vocals sound softer than the instruments and is especially hard to make out on "Bitches Crystal," but when Emerson introduces his partners like Lake before "From The Beginning," it's so hard to hear him it's almost like he was speaking into the wrong mike or the levels weren't turned up.
There are no supplements for this release.
'Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Live at Montreux 1997' is a good concert that finds the band still chugging along. Fans should enjoy this greatest-hits collection, even with the disappointing qualities on the vocals, since they likely know them well already. It's unfortunate there are no extras that deal with the band or this evening in particular since at 91 minutes there's certainly plenty of room. For fans only.