All in the mood for a melody to be feelin’ alright, rock elite pay homage to the ultimate piano man.
An individual of the highest standard in terms of self-demand, Keith Emerson took his own life – and the wind out of his friends and followers’ sails – on March 11th, 2016, the artist’s suicide robbing the world not only of genius but also of a very affable person. Which is why the emotional, rather than cerebral, appreciation of his music was so important for an event that took place at the “El Rey Theatre” in Los Angeles on May 28th, a mere two month after the tragedy had struck: Keith’s fiancée Mari Kawaguchi asked his longtime sidekick, guitarist Marc Bonilla, to assemble for the Emerson tribute concert those who knew him – and they emerged en masse, masking the glaring absence of the fallen hero’s other partners-in-crime, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry. Here’s the document of the resulting two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza, issued on CD and Blu-ray.
The guests add a human touch to their performances by expanding, on the second video disc, on how Keith enriched their lives, and pour their souls into interpretations of Emerson’s legacy. Starting off the evening, Kae Matsumoto seems to set its tone when she plays – solo, on a baby grand – the impassioned “Prelude To A Hope” only to see the solemnity immediately shattered once Emerson’s own ensemble, led now by Bonilla and featuring Jonathan Sindelman on ivories, unleash the most groovy, funky and elegant delivery of “Karn Evil 9” which will be followed, taking the flow further towards rapture, with “The Barbarian” – where Steve Porcaro handles Hammond and Rachel Flowers tackles piano – that’s so reverently wild as to reflect Keith’s very nature. Yet though the degree of merriment might feel high on “Hoedown” whose country roots are thrown into relief thanks to Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s bluegrass figures and Mike Wallace’s six-string filigree, trading licks with Bonilla’s shredding, the joie de vivre must reach the apex later on, courtesy of Keith’s sole present peer here, Brian Auger. His typically English fervent, if loose, portmanteau of “Fanfare For The Common Blue Turkey” is a perfect contrast to the painfully poignant “A Place To Hide” that Steve Lukather’s electric lace and Ed Roth’s keyboard ripple help to soar, to the spiritual “Ride” from Aaron Emerson, and to the fantastically bombastic folk of “Touch And Go” as fueled by Mick Mahan’s bass and Gregg Bissonette’s drums as well as Marc’s best vocals on display.
Flowers returning to provide heartfelt flourishes on “The Endless Enigma” and offset this classic’s flurries of riffs, before CJ Vanston’s nimble fingers do the same on “Take A Pebble” – with a lot of jazzy flair – and Auger’s organs elevate “Tank” after Joe Travers’ intense percussive showcase has heated up the atmosphere. There’s a particular kind of cool to “From The Beginning” which Philippe Saisse and Bonilla’s acoustic chops relocate to a smoke-filled juke joint, while Eddie Jobson’s spacey sway leads “Bitches Crystal” to a cosmic barrelhouse, and Jordan Rudess’ virtuoso panache sends “Tarkus” – brought to the stage in its multi-faceted entirety – to another dimension, one that’s less alien still than what Baxter’s pedal steel and Jobson’s Moog wrap “Lucky Man” in. The latter veteran is also rocking a “proper” rendition of “Fanfare For The Common Man” – the encore Terje Mikkelsen-conducted brass band pushed to the brink of bliss for “Are You Ready, Eddy?” to push the pomp over the edge.
Despite the parading of so many different performers, the concert runs as an indivisible, visually riveting and aurally arresting, whole: Keith Emerson would love it.
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