DVD Review: Emerson, Lake & Palmer — Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Released (or more accurately, repackaged and re-released) in 2009, this is actually a live performance of Emerson, Lake and Palmer dating from 1992. As such, it’s dated in a number of ways. The opening makes use of late 80s/early 90s visual effects familiar to anyone who watched MTV during that era. And both Greg Lake and Carl Palmer sport the popular hairstyles of the era (in fact, Palmer rocks a near-mullet).

The show does feature the welcome sight of Emerson’s bank of keyboards: mostly analog but with some concessions to digital modernity. The trademark mammoth modular Moog is present, but serves here more as a prop/backdrop than a practical instrument.

The camerawork and editing are all professional, but the sound quality is seriously sub-par; vocals are poorly mixed (most notably on Lake’s solo “From the Beginning”) and the overall mix is flat and lifeless. That’s particularly frustrating and shocking in light of ELP’s full-scale sonic assault.

Musicianship is, as expected, peerless. The members of the trio — especially Emerson — were still at or near the top of their game as musicians. Distressingly, however, Lake is shown following a TelePrompTer for the song lyrics.

The song selection covers the hits, and includes a couple of numbers form the group’s then-current “reunion” disc Black Moon. That disc’s “Romeo and Juliet” marks a musical return to form, and an excerpt from it is used as the audio backing for the (very basic) DVD menu. ELP was such a groundbreaking act that by 1992, they really had nowhere left to go musically. With its reliance on pre-recorded female backing vocals, “Paper Blood” feels more like post-Waters era Pink Floyd.

Emerson is, as always, the master showman. When he brings out the portable ribbon controller on the last movement of “Tarkus,” it’s impressive yet oddly perfunctory, as if to suggest “let’s get this out of the way right up front.” For the encore, Emerson pulls a few Nice-era numbers out, and — as expected — brings out the knives. The stage spins to reveal a poor hapless Hammond spinet organ; Emerson proceeds to abuse the instrument within inches of destruction. When he pins himself under the organ and plays it (this, after spray-painting an ELP logo graffiti-style on a faux brick wall), one can’t help think of Spinal Tap. But it’s worth remembering that Emerson originated this sort of shtick back in the 60s when he played with the Nice.