In the ‘70s, Emerson, Lake and Palmer was one of my favorite bands even though my tastes leaned more toward the singer/songwriters of the day: Elton John, Carole King, James Taylor, et al. My dalliance with this flashy prog band was somewhat confounding.
There was just something magic about ELP, Keith Emerson, in particular. Like a wizard, he held court over banks of keyboards, dials and wires, commanding them to do his musical bidding at the touch of his hands. He looked like a swashbuckling pirate or an Arthurian prince. Yeah, he was hot too.
Lake and Palmer were no musical slouches either. To keep pace with Emerson you had to have the chops. The three of them made a powerhouse team, creating music that was an intoxicating mix of classical, rock, and jazz, from long concept pieces like "Tarkus" and "Karn Evil 9" to synth-tinged ballads like “Lucky Man” and “From the Beginning.” Some indefinable element set them apart from other prog bands of the day. It was heady stuff. I’d always suspected that if you could bottle it and drink it, you might live forever.
Of course this kind of symmetry and magic couldn’t last forever. After their Works album, the band’s sparkle faded and their musical output was no longer as grand as it was. They probably realized this in 1978 when, after releasing the horrendous Love Beach, they broke up for the first time. They reunited in the '90s and toured off the equally poor Black Moon album before calling it quits for good.
So in 2010, when Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunited for a one-off show to celebrate their 40th anniversary, it was big news. They commanded the closing spot at London’s High Voltage Rock Festival, attracting fans from all over the world. The questions remained: could these guys still cut it? Could they take the stage and be true to their material after not playing live together since 1998?
Their festival performance is documented on the newly released DVD/Blu-ray Emerson Lake & Palmer...Welcome Back My Friends: 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert, and is proof that regardless how much time has gone by these guys still have what it takes to put on a great show. A documentary is included in this set, containing recent interviews with the band, promoters, fans, and journalists, but it is the performance that will keep you enthralled.
They were truly “on” this night, their talents shining as brightly as if it were 1970 again. Palmer smirks behind his kit as the complex rhythms transport him, Lake’s sinuous tones make even his most cloying lyrics sound like poetry, but it is Emerson who is the real show here. As he takes his place behind behind his keyboards, his hands move assuredly across the keys, once more conjuring up that indefinable magic that makes ELP’s music as thrilling now as it was 40 years ago.