By Todd Whitesel
Sanctuary (06076-88418-9) (Two DVDs)“My recollection of those early ELP years is a bit of a blur. And the reason is — that every single day was extraordinary. Extraordinary.” — Greg LakeEmerson, Lake & Palmer are one of the most influential and important bands in progressive rock. Their music was groundbreaking, challenging, revered and reviled. Where other bands hinted at classical influences, ELP brought the works of composers such as Modest Mussorgsky, Alberto Ginastera, and Aaron Copland into the fold of popular music. In doing so ELP did as much to expose a generation to classical music as any orchestra or conductor did — or perhaps could.
Beyond The Beginning is a two-DVD set chronicling Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s meteoric rise in 1970 and their enormously successful run through much of the ’70s, until the trio disbanded in 1978. In the beginning, the ambition of Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, and Carl Palmer was strong enough to override any internal conflicts, and the band members’ dreams of becoming rock stars were more fully realized than any of them could have imagined. In the end, an ever-expanding stage show nearly broke the band — a tour launched in 1976 included a full orchestra, personal traveling physician and included a stage set requiring 11 tractor trailers — and after one last album, the ill-fated Love Beach, ELP called it a day (they would reunite 13 years later). On these DVDs the band members candidly retell their story and give believable accounts of the highs and lows as a trio.
The discs also present a chronology of in-concert and TV performances from 1970-97 — the last time the trio played live — with a generous selection of ELP’s best-known numbers including “Hoedown,” “Lucky Man,” “Karn Evil 9” and “Tarkus.” The footage includes a 1970 performance on Germany’s Beat Club of the brilliantly realized “Take A Pebble,” with Emerson’s sweeping glissandos across the piano strings; the thunderous “Knife Edge” from a 1971 concert in Brussels; and Emerson’s supercharged arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” renamed simply, “Rondo.” Complete footage of ELP’s 1974 headline show at the California Jam is included, with the band in full flourish: Emerson leaps over his keyboards and tortures their inner workings, creating sounds the inventors never intended. His stagecraft extends to a spinning piano segment where Emerson and instrument are lifted into the air and rotated 360 degrees as Emerson continues playing; Palmer’s unbelievably physical drumming runs across kit, tubular bells, gongs and bells; and Lake ably shifts between bass, 12-string acoustic and six-string electric guitar with such ease he appears to not even be trying.
Not all is golden. The California Jam footage is jumpy — segues between songs are choppy and cut off in places without warning. Other footage from the band’s second official live show — at the massive Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970 — is also foggy, but with segments such as the grandiose ending of Pictures At An Exhibition with the firing of two cannons à la Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” it’s difficult to complain long. What is golden is the bonus rehearsal footage of the band in 1973 presenting a fantastic insider’s view of the trio working out segments of music that would be included on Brain Salad Surgery. Another cool bonus is an interview with keyboard innovator Bob Moog. Moog talks about his relationship with ELP, Emerson in particular, and the role of his synthesizer in the development of the band’s sound. Emerson’s instantly recognizable Moog synthesizer solo on “Lucky Man” had a strange and unlikely birth. The fate of the artists involved with King Crimson’s and ELP’s early album covers is also revealed — and there are some eerie and tragic coincidences.
Although some of the live video is less than perfect by today’s standards, ELP fans will savor this release. Hard-core fans may be privy to some of the information revealed here, but if you’ve simply followed the band’s music this is a most enjoyable and eye-opening set. Usually I watch music DVDs once and then shelve them. I’ve already watched this set twice — that’s the highest recommendation I can give.