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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Works Live

Review by Gary Hill

How you feel about progressive rock will really have a lot to do with how you feel about this disc. Certainly whether you are in the camp that believes that 1970’s prog rock was way too cerebral and pompous and full of too much posturing or if you believe it was the artistic apex of rock music, you can prove it with this release. This is either the best or the worst of the genre – depending on your theory of the musical style. One thing is certain, this is a strong live ELP performance recorded with an orchestra. The sound quality is a bit flat, but I’ve usually found that to be the case with live ELP recordings.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Introductory Fanfare
Less than a minute in length, this is literally just a little keyboard fanfare. At the end of it a man introduces the group.
Peter Gunn
I have always been a big fan of Henry Mancini’s work and this track is no exception. I have to say that I think ELP’s version is among the best and I’d consider it on an equal plane to the original. Suitably jazzy and driving, this high energy instrumental seriously screams under the keyboard powerhouse that is Keith Emerson’s influence.
Tiger in a Spotlight
Here’s a bouncy little rocker. I wouldn’t consider this one overly special, but quite competent nonetheless.
C'Est la Vie

I have always felt (and I’m sure there are plenty who would disagree) that ELP was always best when they did the emotional ballads. This is one of the best of the bunch and this live performance certainly does it justice. It is a beautiful piece of music. The little French café bit is a nice touch of atmosphere and still works well here.

Watching over You
This is a gentle acoustic guitar based ballad. It’s a good track, but lacks some of the emotion of the previous one. For that reason I wouldn’t really consider it to stand as tall as some of the other material. 
Maple Leaf Rag
As the title suggests, this piano solo is a sprightly ragtime piece. 
Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits
This is an Emerson Lake and Palmer adaptation of classical music into a rock format. This is a killer fast paced powerhouse that really rocks out quite well. It’s musically all over the place and yet still coherent and consistent. This is both the type of excess critics of prog rock always pointed to and a stellar performance. 
Fanfare for the Common Man
This instrumental has always been one of my favorite tracks from ELP. Yes, I realize it’s a cover of Copeland, but still – it’s great. They lead it off with a bit of a drum solo and then launch into it. I think that this is right up there with ELP’s version of “Peter Gunn.” This is a definite powerhouse jam and they take it out into some seriously weird territory as they carry on – and weave some new musical concepts and quotes into this thing. 
Knife Edge
The main riff on this is a psychedelic, jazzy killer. The whole song really rocks out quite well and for my money is one of the band’s best tracks. It’s got all the prog drama and power you’d expect. The orchestration here kind of takes away from the power of the piece a bit in my mind, though. 
Show Me the Way to Go
A bluesy, jazzy romp, I’m not so sure this is rock music at all, let alone progressive rock. That said, it’s still a cool tune. 
Disc 2
Abaddon's Bolero
I give a “10.” OK, if you haven’t seen – or at least know about that movie, you probably will miss the reference. In honesty, this is another of ELP’s classical music adaptations and as such the orchestra is quite handy here. They are almost five minutes into this six minute piece before they really cross into territory I’d consider “rock.”
Pictures at an Exhibition
Here’s another classical adaptation. This one’s got more rock in the execution than some of the others. It works through a number of changes and alterations and is quite an intriguing piece of music. As opposed to most of these type numbers, this one has vocals – at first in one of the more atmospheric sections. This is also an epic piece weighing in at over fifteen minutes in length. They take us through a number of changes and alterations, but I’m not sure all the pieces really gel together all that well – although there are some amazing portions. I have to say that the emotionally powerful closing section is certainly great – and brings it all to a nice resolution. 
Closer to Believing
Now this is one of those pretty and evocative balladic pieces. I like this one, but it does get a little noisy and chaotic at times. Still, it’s pretty and tasty. 
Piano Concerto No. 1, Third Movement: Toccata con Fuoco
Another instrumental classical adaptation, this is nearly all classical. It’s also quite tasty. 
Tank
For my money the orchestration really makes this one bomb. At times it feels like a high school marching band more than a rock band. I’d pass this one by myself – although the drum solo is a redeeming factor – and I’m not a fan of drum solos.
 
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