“Then And Now” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Artist: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Title: “Then and Now”
Label: Spitfire Records
Release Date: 11/24/1998
Genre: Progressive Rock
Rating: 3/5

Did you ever find yourself listening to a live recording and wondering what actually went into the planning process before the release came out? I sometimes do, and have to admit that these were the thoughts that went through my mind as I listened to this classic live release by legendary Progressive Rockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The double disc set spans two very different eras in the bands history and based on the way it is laid out, it comes across as a little disjointed. You might be wondering how this is possible for such an incredible band and I shall do my best to explain what I mean. The release begins with music from the legendary California Jam in 1974 where ELP had headlined and performed for something like 250,000 people which was quite a few for an outdoor concert of this kind at the time. Our introduction to that part of the CD begins with Carl Palmer’s drum solo after a brief portion of “Toccata” and that makes no sense. Why not bring us in from the start and skate around a bit instead of coming in at the tail end of a tune for the solo break and then letting the shaky wander down the path grow even worse. From here the show now becomes acoustic and Greg Lake sings a medley of tunes with “Still You Turn Me On” and “Lucky Man” being a part of the mix and notable highlights. Yes, he has an incredibly powerful voice that shines through but to go from blazing drum solo to acoustic tunes was just leaving me wanting more “oomph” from the respected trio. The “vintage era” of the band on this CD ends with a part of their mega-epic “Karn Evil 9”. It’s not the best version I have heard from the band and I will take the studio version or the one done on the superb live release “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends, Ladies and Gentlemen Emerson, Lake & Palmer”. Find that one if you can remember the albums very difficult to remember title. It was remastered in 2007.

From here the album jumps ahead in time to the next era being examined and that would be their 1997/1998 years. There is some nice stuff presented but again we come in somewhere in the middle or towards the end or whatever. Nothing makes sense with this and it confuses the listening senses. Each player is a masterful musician and Emerson is unto a god on the keyboards while Carl is the same on drums. Lake maybe not as much the musical deity, still holds his own and is the warm, yet powerful voice of the group. Another version of “Karn Evil 9” is delivered but it is songs like “Hoedown” and “From The Beginning” that offer the larger appeal. “Take A Pebble” is nice and “Lucky Man” always touches a nerve in me and I had to admit some surprise in their doing “Touch And Go” which was a Powell drummed tune from his brief tenure in the band. For me the song didn’t have as much punch when done with the founding drummer as while skilled beyond belief, I always felt that Cozy had a hook that would knock you through a wall. Other choices of note include “21st Century Schizoid Man” which is a King Crimson tune and done exceptionally well and “Fanfare For The Common Man” and these will leave you feeling how the later material sounds the strongest against the earlier offered compositions but this is clearly a result of the production value of the times when compared to each other. As this portion ended I was left wanting.

History buffs will appreciate the lengthy narrative about these two particular shows, and given the fact that it largely focuses on the Cal Jam ’74 gig in terms of the story it just makes you want the complete show all the more. There’s six pages of straight copy to read through but please don’t do it while the music is playing, as these were players who wanted to take you away with their music and not learn that you were reading notes while they were doing their thing. This is a good release at best and I say this because of its scattered presentation and somewhat “meh” sound on a healthy portion of the tunes. It would have been smarter to release these two shows as distinct albums of their own and perhaps one day we shall be lucky to find this happening so we can sell this version to the diehard completist that needs to own every single recording every issued. Personally if I had my choice between this release and that one I referenced earlier, I would bypass this in an instant. It is only for a small sampling of their fan base and none more.

Track Listing:
1. Toccata
2. Take a Pebble Excerpts: Still…You Turn Me On/Lucky Man/Piano Improvisations
3. Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Pt. 2/Third Impression
4. Time and a Place
5. Piano Concerto No .1: Third Movement
6. From the Beginning
7. Karn Evil 9: First Impression, Pt. 2
8. Tiger in a Spotlight
9. Hoedown
10. Touch and Go
11. Knife Edge
12. Bitches Crystal
13. Honky Tonk Train Blues
14. Take a Pebble
15. Lucky Man
16. Fanfare for the Common Man/Blue Rondo a la Turk
17. 21st Century Schizoid Man/America

Official Website: http://www.emersonlakepalmer.com

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