[Review] Emerson Lake & Palmer: Then & Now (1998)

Half archival live release, half recent concert document, all ELP.

Kronomyth 17.0: Money for jam.

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that ended a long time ago (1974) and the one that just ended (1997/98). The double-disc Then & Now combines the two into a single generous helping for the insatiable appetites of ELP fans everywhere, with some tasteful packaging and liner notes by Bruce Pilato that faithfully re-create the unique environs of The California Jam Concert (the venue for the ’74 side). Unfortunately, there are two problems with Then & Now that may temper your enthusiasm: 1) the “then” side sounds poorly miked much of the time, dampening an otherwise fiery performance, and 2) the “now” side is miked extremely well, which underscores just how froggy Greg Lake’s voice has become.

I find myself either wanting to soar with the early show and being pulled back by the grave condition of the recording, or cavorting in the instrumental excellence of the new shows only to be stopped cold in my tracks by Lake’s voice. Sometimes, I succeed at enjoying myself despite it all: “Karn Evil 9” from the 1974 show, “A Time and a Place,” “Take a Pebble” and the breathtaking “Blue Rondo a la Turk” from the ’97 tour. It’s a lot to sift through for a handful of nuggets, but fans will hardly count the exercise as work.

The historical significance of the early show, combined with the warm feeling that comes from hearing ELP tear through old classics twenty years on like it still matters, is a reward in itself. Instrumentally, ELP has conceded nothing to age; “Hoedown” and “Bitches Crystal,” for example, possess an evergreen ebullience (9/1/20: whereas I seem to possess a weak command of the English language if the best I could come up with was “evergreen ebullience”). Keith Emerson’s keyboard sounds have changed with the advent of new technology, but what’s more noticeable is how little they’ve changed.

The years may have sapped some of Greg Lake’s golden voice and a fraction of Emerson’s celerity, but it also removed many of the distractions: the elaborate stage sets, the feeding of three separate egos with meandering instrumental passages and acoustic ballads, the strain of constantly trying to exceed expectations. In its place stand three supremely talented musicians who can celebrate the past with the conviction that it still means something today. And it does, although now and then we can use a reminder like this. Caveat emptor: I’ve seen this set sell for less than ten bucks (in supermarkets, no less) and for four times that amount online, so be penny wise and not pound foolish (or euro’ll be sorry).

Original 2CD version

Then – Cal Jam ‘74
A1. Toccata (Alberto Ginastera/Keith Emerson/Carl Palmer)
A2. Take a Pebble Excerpts:
Still… You Turn Me On (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake)
Lucky Man (Greg Lake)
Piano Improvisations (Friedrich Gulda)
A3. Karn Evil 9
First impression Pt. 2 (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake)
Third Impression (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Peter Sinfield)
Now Tour ‘97/98
A4. A Time and a Place (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Carl Palmer
A5. Piano Concerto No. 1: Third Movement (Keith Emerson)
A6. From the Beginning (Greg Lake)
B1. Karn Evil 9: First Impression Pt. 2 (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake)
B2. Tiger in a Spotlight (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Carl Palmer/Peter Sinfield)
B3. Hoedown (Aaron Copland/Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Carl Palmer)
B4. Touch and Go (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake)
B5. Knife Edge (Leos Janacek/Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Richard Fraser)
B6. Bitches Crystal (Keith Emerson/Greg Lake)
B7. Honky Tonk Train Blues (Meade “Lux” Lewis)
B8. Take a Pebble (Greg Lake)
B9. Lucky Man (Greg Lake)
B10a. Fanfare for the Common Man (Aaron Copland/Keith Emerson/Greg Lake/Carl Palmer)
B10b. Blue Rondo a la Turk (Dave Brubeck)
B11a. 21st Century Schizoid Man (Robert Fripp/Michael Giles/Greg Lake/Ian McDonald/Peter Sinfield)
B11b. America (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim)

The Players

Keith Emerson (keyboards and the world’s most dangerous synthesizers), Greg Lake (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, basses), Carl Palmer (drums and percussion). Produced by Keith Wechsler; executive producers: Emerson, Lake & Palmer; co-executive producer: Will Alexander; engineered by Will Alexander and Keith Wechsler; additional engineering by Rich Tozzoli; mixed and programmed by Keith Wechsler.

The Pictures

Original cover and back cover paintings by H.R. Giger. Research and liner notes by Bruce Pilato.

The Plastic

Released on 2CD on November 17, 1998 in the UK (Eagle, EGCD040), the US (Eagle Entertainment, 1001), Argentina and Brazil (Sum Record, 6255) and Japan (JVC Victor, VICP-60549/50).

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