Leaders of entertainment companies have little interest in anything besides profit. If they did, music lovers would have a myriad of amazing DVDs, CDs and other formats to enjoy their favorite groups playing during the pinnacle of success. But sadly, too many entertainment companies are willing to trade on the name of an admired band and offer the public a view of this group at its lowest depths. Such is the case with Emerson, Lake and Palmer Live at Montreux. Filmed in 1997, at almost the very end of the band’s career, this concert film is a painful reminder of how far the mighty can fall when they’re past their prime.
After years of studio albums and constant touring, Emerson, Lake and Palmer called it quits in the eighties mostly so that vocalist/guitarist Greg Lake, keyboardist Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer could take time to re-energize their creative flows. No formal breakup of the band was announced, but fans understood at the time there were a number of aesthetic and business problems that would keep the band apart for a long time.
Emerson and Lake pursued solo careers and Palmer helped form the progressive rock band Asia during the ELP respite. They each compiled credits as solo acts and with each other on various outings, but didn’t work again as a trio until the early nineties. The reforming of ELP was greatly anticipated by fans, but the re-inauguration and downfall of the group quickly became a fait-accompli.
In a way, watching this DVD is like witnessing a tragic collision. It’s difficult to recall a time watching three musicians who so obviously hated playing together. The animosity between Emerson and Lake is so thick one needs a cleaver to cut through it. They cannot even stand looking at one another throughout the performance. And the performances are dire. Emerson is all over the place, trying to replace his once-brilliant chops with speed. He attempts to bring some life to the show by dragging out an old organ, and applying his old theatrical playing style to it. He also works with his old Moog switchboard, which, considering the technical improvements, made to keyboards is outmoded.
Lake strains through the vocal numbers and plays some wicked acoustic guitar. But he was at a loss when it came to the dynamic bass parts that added so much to Palmer’s amazing drumming. Palmer steals the show with his amazingly consistent and inspired percussion. Even when Emerson was off, Palmer was able to maintain the beat, getting his cohort back on track. Palmer’s work is the only redeeming value of this DVD and it might be worth a look by aspiring drummers who want to learn a little about Palmer’s technique.
Worst still is the quality of the recording, which sounds like it was made by an audience member. Emerson’s parts drop in and out and Lake sounds like he’s being strangled at times. Yet Palmer’s drums are ever-present in the mix. I don’t know what arrangements were made about the release of this tape, but if they had the chance ELP should have sued to keep it off the market. It is the death knell to this super group’s musical legacy.
Documents of the last shows of great bands are always welcome by music-loving consumers. Emerson, Lake and Palmer Live at Montreux might satisfy those unfamiliar with this band’s mammoth talent, but they also might be confused as to why this group commanded the audiences it once did. And that does a grave disservice to these musicians.
Unfortunately, there is no penalty to profiteers who offer the worst of an artist to an unsuspecting public. Sales of this DVD will only lead companies to market more of this shameful dreck. Instead of warning labels for consumers about bad language, we need to slap “caveat emptor” labels on DVDs like this. It would be an extremely worthwhile public service.