Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Sanctuary, 1974


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


An apt title, really, since this monster took up three LPs when it first came out. And as Yes had just released the triple-LP Yessongs in 1973, which was their career highlight, it goes to think that this record would have the same effect on Emerson, Lake & Palmer, right?

Wrong. While it is truly impressive that only three guys could make as much sound as they do here, their tendency to elongate everything with showy solos drags this down. The 25-minutes of "Karn Evil 9" now takes up 35 albums and an entire two sides of vinyl. "Take A Pebble" has been elongated to 25 minutes. When people speak of prog excess - when you wonder what the punks were so mad about - stuff like this was the reason.

Worse, the concert sounds as if it was recorded from the upper balcony, never once giving the feeling of being up close, the way the best live albums do. It feels cavernous; the CD helps this a bit, but not fully. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But on the other side, there's really no other way to capture ELP in concert, so this is as good a document of the era as it could have been, despite the sound issues. "Hoedown" is too fast and "Jerusalem" is just pompous, but "Toccata" retains its darkness and improves a bit on the studio version. The opening and closing of "Take A Pebble" is also solid and not showy; Greg Lake also gets acoustic takes on "Still...You Turn Me On" and "Lucky Man," which humble the proceedings here just a tad. But the middle 12 minutes are given to Keith Emerson's piano noodlings; not songs, nothing with a point, just noodlings. It's frustrating and pointless; same for those dumbass honky-tonk songs, of which two are inexplicably played here.

Of the two remaining beasts, "Karn Evil 9" is more or less faithful to its studio version, albeit with an extended Carl Palmer drum solo toward the end of the first impression (the "Welcome Back My Friends" portion that gets played on classic rock radio). The third impression, while technically amazing, lacks the mechanical malevolence of the studio version and seems to plod on; the closing electronic whooshes hardly seem fitting for a song of this scope. Maybe you had to be there. But the second impression, where things get a little jazzy, is solid.

The highlight of the album, and perhaps the band's career, is the 27-minute take on "Tarkus," which is basically the studio version with six minutes added to the "Aquatarkus" section that closes the piece. The band revs up the tempo in the opener, playing with a nimble, almost punk-rock ferocity. It loses a little steam in that elongated closing section, despite Emerson's attempts to liven things up with electronics and sci-fi sounds, but remains a compelling slice of prog-rock. 

The fact that three guys could make this sort of music, with no backing musicians and no overdubs, is fantastic...and a feat they would not replicate, as things would start going south from here. This puts a cap on the first half of the band's career and is worth checking out if you're a casual fan of the band or the era, but be warned...it's a lot to sit through.

Rating: B-

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© 2006 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sanctuary, and is used for informational purposes only.