Updated: Nov 25, 2019
By: Will Friedwald | The CitiView
“Welcome back my friends / To the show that never ends!” Supposedly, when the Rolling Stones first started, their worst fear would be that someone would mistake them for a rock and roll group - you see, they thought of themselves as a blues band.
Likewise, when pianist Keith Emerson, singer, bassist and guitarist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer first joined forces 50 years ago (like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, they all were veterans of other successful bands - this was indeed a “supergroup”), few people would have confused them for any other rock band that had existed up to that point.
This was a welcome step at the time, when rock was moving from clubs and smaller theaters into increasingly larger venues such as festivals (like Woodstock, the Isle of Wight, Monterey Pop, and Altamont). Like Queen, also formed in London in 1970, EL&P were determined from the beginning to produce a unique version of rock and roll that was explicitly designed for big rooms and even stadiums: a kind of concert hall rock with equal roots in the European classics.
Alas, even though Emerson, Lake, and Palmer had reunited as recently as 2010 (for an audience of 30,000 at the High Voltage Festival in London), both Keith Emerson, and Greg Lake left us in 2016. Now, Carl Palmer tours with a number of bands, including the ELP Legacy. This power trio co-stars Paul Bielatowicz on guitar and most of the vocals, including “Lucky Man,” and perhaps ELP’s biggest hit “song” (or what comes closest to conforming to the traditional definition of a song), and Simon Fitzpatrick playing mostly the Chapman Stick to create what sounds like guitar, bass, and keyboard all at once.
Wednesday’s set at The Iridium included all the ELP hits and favorites - fans of the band heard everything they came to hear, among them two doses of Bach, the iconic Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and “Knife Edge,” from their debut album, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (1970), with it’s allusions to Bach’s French Suite (also in D minor). Then there was the title number from their third album Trilogy, which is more of a ballad, and, in the mixture of classics and pop, contains allusions to such jazz luminaries as Dave Brubeck and the Modern Jazz Quartet. In fact, the group’s most famous “extended work,” “Tarkus,” contains sections in 5/4 (sometimes given as 10/8) that on some level were certainly inspired by Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” (“Tarkus” also contains an illusion to Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”)
There were solo sections for both Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Bielatowicz (the latter doing a piece that started with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”) amd a deep dive through an ELP predecessor, King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” which now seems like an ancient prediction that had recently come to pass.
There were other ELP classics in multiple senses of the word, like their imaginative re-imagining of Carl Orff’s perennially-popular Carmina Burana, and two major crowd pleasers from Copland, the “Hoedown” (from the Rodeo ballet) and “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which climaxed in an epic drum solo from Mr. Palmer. When he announced this would be their last song, a rather aggressive fan in the back row yelled out, “You’re not finished yet!” Indeed.