Sunday, May 09, 2010

Emerson, Lake, and Slick

Thursday night I had the privilege of seeing Keith Emerson and Greg Lake in concert. Special shout out to Gary's pal Eric Slifkin for getting us probably the world's best seats at the Keswick Theater, and to current Emerson/Lake tech and our great friend Andre Cholmondeley for surprising us with VIP backstage passes.

So wait...I was actually going to meet Keith Emerson and Greg Lake? You are kidding me.

Is that really Greg and me having a chat on the tour bus? Why yes, it is. Ask me how cool that was. And look. He signed my VIP pass. And he was so charming. Every time I went to stand up to leave because I was really worried I was over-extending my visit, he took me by the arm and pushed me back down and said "Sit, sit, don't go." Wow. Just wow. I mean, the guy had just played a long show and he probably wanted to go pass out somewhere but instead he was really into having a conversation.

Let me give you a little history here and why this is such a big deal. Back when I was a little baby hippie, I knew I loved rock music but I wasn't allowed to play it at my house because my father was a jazz musician and he truly believed that the Beatles killed his career. But not only did I love the Beatles, I saved my babysitting money and bought music I thought was cool based on songs I heard on my old transistor radio - the AM station, yet. So yeah, I did buy the Beatles Revolver but my collection also included groovy albums like The Turtles Greatest Hits. I did not have a clue as to what was really going on in the underground FM music world. What's ironic about my Turtles choice is that when I was a few years older I would call myself lame for liking them and I kinda wrote them off. But then as a adult, I realized d'oh, the Turtles were actually Flo and Eddie, who played with one of my musical heroes, Frank Zappa, so even not knowing anything about rock music as a kid, I had instinctive good fucking taste. Anyway, not to plug my book or anything, but if you've read my (very) creative non-fiction memoir, Daddy Left Me Alone with God, while a lot of the stuff in there is completely make believe, the bit about learning about rock and roll from my young, teenage boyfriend, who would later be my husband, is completely true to every last detail. He turned me on to all the great bands, and one of the first albums he brought over was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I fell in love on listen number one, the same as when I heard King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King for the first time...unlike anything I'd ever heard. In fact, Gary brought those two albums over at the same time along with the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed and Procol Harum's Salty Dog. Can you imagine the sensory overload of being introduced to those four albums simultaneously?

Gary and I loved ELP so much that we would have ELP listening parties when my father wasn't home and we'd even play his stereo (we were forbidden to touch that but our records sounded so much better on his than my plastic record player). We'd start with album one, move to album two, (Tarkus, and so on, all the way up to Brain Salad Surgery.

Ever see what stereos and crappy plastic record players from the sixties look like? Here's what my father got to listen to his stuff on:

Here's what I was stuck with:

Anyway, getting back to Gary and me, one of our very first "dates" as kids was going to the old Philadelphia Spectrum and seeing Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The opener that night was YES. And then the night I went into labor with Julie and I was freaking out because the doctor told me not to go to the hospital until early the next morning based on the timing of contractions even though I swore I was about to give birth at my house any second, Gary kept playing two songs over and over to calm me down - Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Take a Pebble and Mark Knopfler's Theme from Local Hero. Tony Levin plays bass on that. My whole world came full circle Thursday night when Gary and I also talked to Keith Emerson on the tour bus. Because in 2008, Julie and Eric and Adrian played the Creation of Peace Festival in Russia with Keith Emerson and Tony Levin. I'd already met Tony a few years ago and that was surreal enough as a long time fan...meeting Keith had now officially blown my mind altogther.

Here's Julie and Tony in Russia:

And Julie, Andre, and Keith in Russia.

So here's Gary, Keith, and me, hanging out on the Emerson/Lake tour bus Thursday as I naturally babbled the whole story to Keith in about twenty seconds and he just kind of stared at me smiling as the words rushed out but hurrah, he did in fact remember playing with Julie and Eric in Russia and was extremely gracious.

Anyway, I never dreamed I'd get a chance to hear Emerson and Lake play together again. I was so excited and it's funny, I never doubted for a second that the show would be amazing. Yes I know we are all older, have health issues...I knew about Keith's hand surgeries...yet I knew this was going to be a chill rendering concert.

The stage set was made to look like a recording studio and Greg explained that they were recording the show each night and wanted the vibe on stage. But they had a typical ELP touch - a lit torch...and they both entered the stage through velvet cloaks/drapery.

Like I said, our seats were so great I could clearly see the expressions on both Keith and Greg's faces - they were relaxed, happy, and knew Philadelphia has always been a prog friendly city. The first song was In the Beginning.

Seriously. Greg's voice was AMAZING. It was like forty years had not passed by. I couldn't help it, I started to cry. Naturally I did not bring tissues (who expected to cry at a rock concert?) so by the time he started in on song two, the sleeves of my sweatshirt were soaked from wiping my face.

They played I Talk to the Wind from In the Court of the Crimson King. I completely lost it.

But when they followed that up with Take a Pebble, it was really all over for me. Please oh please watch these videos. It's from a live show in Belgium in 1971. What a fantastic treat to find this!

Anyway, I would love to fill this blog post up with You Tubes of every song they played, but then this page would take forever to load, your computers would freeze, and you'd all hate me. But hopefully you'll look them up yourselves because they are amazing. The remaining set list was as follows:

Tarkus (oh my God, please listen to that)...and Greg's voice on Stones of Years...holy cow, he just got more and more powerful as the evening went on. No one has a voice like that. No one.

What was also cool was that they conversed with the audience in between songs and in case any of you are planning on attending future shows, I don't want to be a spoiler. It's bad enough I'm giving you the set list but they said they're still playing with it and adding new things, etc. so I don't feel bad giving it away. Plus, it's on forum boards everywhere, too.

Intermission time, and as a woman, I gotta laugh...I stood in my first bathroom line, ever, at a prog concert.

They took the stage about twenty minutes later, and Keith told a story about the old days...when he used to play while spinning around on his piano up in the air. Take that, Pink.

They followed that with C'est La Vie -- Keith on the accordian and Greg on the acoustic. It was brilliant. Just brilliant.

And then a surprise -- a smoking version of Bitches Crystal. Out of their entire catalogue, that selection surprised me but I was really glad they chose to play it. Definitely a highlight.

Then Keith went into a vocal-less America, followed by Rondo. And I think Prelude to a Hope. (Andre, if you are reading this, come in and help me here...I know I am missing something)

ETA: Okay, as always, Andre came through for me. He did indeed play Prelude to a Hope, then Malambo (from "Estancia Suite") by Alberto Ginastera (he wrote TOCCATA on Brain Salad Surgery). Both of these amazing songs are tracks on the recent Keith Emerson Band featuring Mark Bonilla CD and also available on iTunes. And d'oh, I already own that CD. So should you!

And thus we stood yet again for what was many, many standing ovations. Keith Emerson is a God. I'm sorry, but he is. No one can convince me otherwise.

Then they took some questions from the audience. I actually enjoyed that, and most of the questions were thoughtful and intelligent, except one bonehead asked Greg about what inspired him to write 21st Century Schizoid Man. I put my head in my hands and groaned. Pete Sinfield wrote those lyrics and the song was written collectively by King Crimson.

Greg could have made an idiot of the guy but he chose to handle it classily. He called the lyrics dark and commented how while written in 1969, many of the sentiments expressed in the song have come true and how interesting (and scary) that was.

"Cat's foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door.
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Blood rack barbed wire
Polititians' funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Death seed blind man's greed
Poets' starving children bleed
Nothing he's got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man. "

Someone asked Keith about the difficulties he was having with his right hand and Keith got really choked up when he answered...his eyes filled with tears. Trust me, Gary and I were sitting close enough to see. He remarked that he'd had several unnecessary surgeries which led to permanent damage, and he spoke of the utter despair he was in, seriously believing he'd never play again. Did he have limitations when he played Thursday night? Yes, of course, but it didn't matter, it made the show even more poignantly beautiful.

Did I mention he played the original moog given to him by its creator, Robert Moog. What a thrill it was to see that up close and personal!

Pirates was next - it blew me away. Totally.

They left the stage, we clamored for an encore, they quickly obliged.

Then Greg gave us the very surprising background of Lucky Man and launched into the song and what a shock, I cried through that, too.

Again, I don't want to spoil the show for anyone planning on attending in the future, so I won't tell that tale or the Leonard Bernstein story (hilarious)...all I can say is, check out their remaining tour dates and um, keep your eye on their respective websites for what may be some exciting news about the future...

So to wrap this up, the evening was magical, and I am now the proud owner of the following photograph...Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends...Ladies and Gentlemen, EMERSON, LAKE, AND SLICK!

I'd like to thank Mary Ann Burns, a longtime friend of the band, for taking the photos of Gary, Greg, Keith and me and for being kind enough to email them to me so that I could have them for my blog and for posterity. She rocks!