- Emerson Lake and Palmer
- Live in California
At the time of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Live in California 1974 assumed illicit recording, bootlegging was never more rampant, never more the bane of the big music machine that had taken over most of the industry. While bands could often excuse fans for wanting to take home the magic, especially those that went to great lengths of subterfuge to bring recording equipment into a venue and adequately record the show, record labels weren’t so forgiving watching potential profits go underground. Nearly 40 years later, ELP’s April 6th closing appearance in front of 200,000 at the California Jam, captured not by sanctioned engineers but by less than official enthusiasts has been cleaned up and released by major label Shout Factory.
It isn’t entirely clear the source material mined for this nugget, referred to in the liner notes by the band only as an historical moment and one of the trio’s best performances. There are some conspicuous edits between songs, and the sonic quality while tidy and full-bodied, reflects a lack of a pro set-up. Nevertheless, it is a marvelous outing by the British prog rockers and a treasure for fans that may still have a 4th generation cassette of the memorable gig up in the attic.
After opening with the thundering “Toccata,” hits “Still… You Turn Me On” and “Lucky Man” are passionate and confident, delivered by Greg Lake with just an acoustic guitar, a bold choice in front of a mega-festival audience. Sounding more like jazz-hall combo than space age explorers, Keith Emerson displays his multi-faceted keyboard virtuosity, and his inner-Gershwin, on “Piano Improvisations.”
The emphasis of musicianship, a progressive hallmark of the day, is bountiful. “Take a Pebble” retains its drama, while “Karn Evil 9, First Impression Part 2” unloads the tilt-a-whirl energy that made it a chart-topper and AOR favorite, including a Carl Palmer percussion workout. This and the following two tracks, “Karn Evil 9 Third Impression” and “Pictures at an Exhibition,” combine sci-fi dissonance, baroque undertones, and the flat-out brilliance of each player, eventually lifting off then resolving to a roaring audience.
Included are conscientious closing remarks to the departing crowd from an appreciative emcee, perhaps a reminder of the relief at successfully pulling off such an event in California with the tragedy of Altamont still strong in the memory. It’s a little touch that nicely bookends this bootleg with a heart. Hearing a show that was given such care by its captor the first time around now preserved, especially in the YouTube age when bootlegging has morphed into something ubiquitous and often unfulfilling, is a sweet escape to another era.