RockBeat 2015 / S’more 2017
Beyond pomp and circumstance, prog giants expose their true selves and thrive live.
Their legendary status and acclaim as virtuosi might overshadow the fact that ELP were a little rock combo who used to think big and perform as if there was no tomorrow, and quite possibly it would be this wildness, rather than the band’s intellectualism, that allured South America. The resurrected trio visited the continent for the first time in the early ‘90s after delivering the “Black Moon” album, and here is a document of the track on 4 CDs: two complete shows, from Chile and Argentina, recorded in 1993, and a good part of 1997’s Brazilian concert – all a reminder of the veteran’s core values, stripped of stardust and focused on music.
That’s why, without much ado of a build-up, the ensemble charge into the concise, and increasingly transparent in its instrumental ornament, “Tarkus” whose start-stop nature and newly acquired jazz vibe create an immense wave of energy which would recede towards the end of the show when the tension left by a tight-but-loose and gloriously modernized “Pictures At An Exhibition” is resolved with a powerful wigout around “Fanfare” and “Rondo” – including quotes from Rimsky-Korsakov, Rossini and Bach – a coda which, later on, housed not only “America” but also “Schizoid Man” as a way of paying homage to Keith Emerson and Greg Lake‘s respective pasts.
The 1993 sets on offer are very similar, though, yet if Santiago saw Lake in vigorously lyrical form on “Still You Turn Me On” before the delicate, accordion-oiled “C’est La Vie” sent everybody down imaginary memory lane, Buenos Aires got an acoustic glimpse even deeper, “From The Beginning” taking the crowd to the onset of ELP mythology, whereas Emerson’s romantic side is revealed with the pure piano of “Close To Home” and, so fitting for the locale, “Creole Dance” that finds the Alberto Ginastera tune ruffled and rippled to unleash a stream of emotions. The listeners raise their voices to join the chorus of “Lucky Man” and hail the exuberance of “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” but the group’s chemistry is palpable even on the more restrained in their boogie-tinctured bombast numbers like “Touch And Go” where Carl Palmer’s sparse beats fuel a folk foundation.
The ensemble’s latest pieces such as the elegantly roaring “Paper Blood” truly come alive in front of the audience, yet the same can’t be initially said of an indulgent romp through “Pirates” – gradually rendered fantastic thanks to percussive magic. There’s a rough-hewn grace in “Knife Edge” with its cosmic gallop and baroque cool, and a youthful groove to “Hoedown” – possibly the best combination of the three post-reunion talents – whereas a samba tincturing of “Karn Evil 9” spices it all up and, again, provides an anchor to the place and time as if to paradoxically prove ELP’s global timelessness. This package might not catch the band’s at their best, but as a display of the trio’s true nature it’s essential.