“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside. Come inside.”
The rock gods must have been smiling when Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer journeyed from their perspective corners of the music world and combined to form the band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, or merely ELP to the fans. Keith Emerson had made quite a name for himself with his manic organ riffs while working in the band The Nice. Greg Lake was busy with the band King Crimson where he worked with long-time ELP collaborator Peter Sinfield. Carl Palmer was the youngest member of the group and had played for several bands before meeting up with his eventual ELP bandmates. Together they would help to define an entire genre of music. This new progressive rock era would be recognized not by hit singles and AM radio play. Instead this music would be enjoyed for its virtuosity and complexity. In all of the years the band enjoyed success, they’ve released less than a handful of what the industry defines as a single. Yet, anyone who has ever seriously picked up an instrument in the last 40 years knows exactly who they are.
The band holds an even more personal meaning for me. The first rock concert I ever saw was ELP at the venerable Spectrum in Philadelphia in Feb of 1977. I was a 16-year-old hopeful musician and songwriter myself. So, with my first lead guitarist and a priest from our Catholic high school, we traveled the 40 miles or so from Reading to Philadelphia, and my life hasn’t been the same since. The band was at its peak then. And while several inches of snow fell outside that nearly stranded us, and I later discovered, the band as well, I was getting my first lesson in a lifelong education of showmanship and music. I can still close my eyes and see the stage exactly as it was then. But now I don’t have to. It might have taken place 20 years after my own encounter, but Emerson, Lake, & Palmer make their high-definition Blu-ray debut with the 1997 concert at the Montreux Jazz. If you haven’t been as fortunate as I to have seen the legendary band perform live, I offer you the next best thing.
The song selection is quite impressive even if it does leave out my favorite track, Pirates. It’s surprising the track wasn’t included. It’s been an encore mainstay since its release on the Works Volume 1 album. The concert is heavy on the older classic titles. Of course there is Lucky Man. Such early favorites as Take A Pebble, From The Beginning and a Tarkus Medley join such crowd pleasers as Tiger In A Spotlight and Touch And Go (originally an Emerson, Lake & Powell track). While all three musicians have retained their chops, it’s absolutely Keith Emerson who shines in this concert. Back in 1992 Emerson had damaged his hand and was rumored to have had less than 50% mobility left. I’m not sure what he had to do to get back in shape, but the mobility has got to be back up to 100% or more. The man’s fingers fly across a keyboard like a top gun across the horizon. It’s fast, furious, and synchronicity itself.
The concert is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of about 20 mbps. I have to say that I approached the image cautiously. It was filmed in the pre-HD age. I have to say I was impressed with the results. I was extremely pleased by the detail. There are a lot of close-ups of Emerson’s fingers moving over the keys. I’m pleased to say that they are quite clear. No motion blur and perfect focus the entire time. Detail is lost in the wide shots. Credit that problem to not-quite-as-solid black levels. There’s no compression artifact here, but there is a softness to the picture in these shots as contrasted with those tight zoom shots. Colors are natural, of course taking into consideration the stage lighting.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is superior to the Dolby Digital 5.0 or LPCM 2.0 track. It’s not that the music is terribly aggressive across the surrounds. It’s simply the dynamic range that comes across as compared to the other options. Surprisingly, it’s not the default option. Emerson’s keys cut through with amazing clarity. I can assure you it didn’t sound that clean in the Spectrum back in 1977. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Greg Lake’s vocals. I don’t know if it was the mix or a lack of power in Lake’s aging pipes. I suspect it had more to do with the latter than the former. His vocals are more often than not completely buried by the keyboards and to a lesser extent the drums. The old boy just doesn’t appear to have the projection he once enjoyed. The tonality was impressive, when you could make it out. Fortunately for me, I knew every lyric by heart. The sound achieves wonderful range, particularly handling the bottoms and extreme highs with a depth of sound and no sign of distortion or splatter. I wish Lake’s voice had been up to snuff, because this is the best clarity I’ve heard from anything in my ELP collection.
Sadly, there is no interview footage or other extras other than a small booklet with some rather nice liner notes.
My uncle first turned me on to ELP in the early 70’s. I remember he had a cool Keith Emerson poster in his bedroom that I kept trying, unsuccessfully, to talk him into giving to me. I have every album the band has put out from the vinyl days through the original CD’s. I guess I don’t count there myriad “essential” collections. If you boast the same devotion to the trio, then your collection is no longer complete until you add this high- definition passport to those nostalgic days. “You gotta see the show. It’s a dynamo. You gotta see the show. It’s rock ‘n’ roll”.