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Reviews > DVDs

Published: 2009/03/01
by Mark Burnell

Emerson Lake and Palmer : Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Shout Factory)

Emerson Lake and Palmer : Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Shout Factory)

The Groundhogs : Live at the Astoria (Eagle Vision)

It’s official: the DVD is the new CD.

Brand new CDs can now be had for twelve bucks on Amazon, digital downloads are even cheaper, and DVDs that used to retail in the $30 and up region can now be had for prices lower than new CDs were two years ago. This situation, which is a reflection of decreasing production costs, has also lead to something of a glut in cut price reissues, which brings us to these two releases.

After breaking up in the late 1970s, following the disastrous disco-tinged album Love Beach, and presumably after Palmer had forgiven Emerson and Lake for touring as ELP while sneakily inserting drummer Cozy Powell into the lineup (a smart move that required no retooling of the ELP merchandise line), the original Emerson, Lake, and Palmer trio reunited in 1992 for the frankly sub par Black Moon. Instead of warming up for their first tour in over a dozen years with a few low-key gigs, ELP launched their comeback in the grand surroundings of London’s historic Royal Albert Hall. They’ve certainly gotten their money’s worth from this show because apart from this DVD, originally released on video, they also turned out a live CD of the gig with a very different track listing. This DVD mostly sticks to a “greatest hits” approach with thankfully just two tracks from the new album, and it really isn’t bad at all.

The boys have obviously lost a step or two from their heyday, and they are an easy target for mockery. Greg Lake used to have a carpet roadie back in the 70s, but judging by the tightness of the leather pants he wears at this show, he probably needed a trouser roadie to get those suckers off after the show. And there’s definitely something Spinal Tap-like about Emerson wandering into the audience, waving something resembling a light saber, alternately making screeching noises with it and making fire shoot out the end. However, there’s no denying that they are terrific musicians, and they really do jam like crazy in spots, especially on the closing medley of “Fanfare For the Common Man->America->Blue Rondo A La Turk,” which is actually quite thrilling. I watched this with a diehard ELP fan who pronounced it “awesome,” and I can’t disagree with that assessment.

The Groundhogs have been around for 30 years and are an old-fashioned power trio led by Tony McPhee, a candidate for the title of “best guitarist you’ve never heard of.” Unfortunately, he has a singing voice only a mother could love, not to mention a stage presence best described as “bemused,” which may explain The Groundhogs’ lack of success outside their native England. Truth be told, the first few songs here, all straightforward blues numbers, are pretty tough to sit through because of McPhee’s vocals, but the middle section of this 80 minute performance is absolutely stellar. The band pulls out some of their most famous early 70s material, including “Split parts 1 and 2” and “Cherry Red,” and McPhee simply shreds his way through the songs, piling up mind-blowing solo after mind-blowing solo. This four-song segment alone makes this DVD worth getting and is a must-see for guitar aficionados unfamiliar with McPhee.

Both of these releases have their technical faults. The audio on the ELP is inexcusably quiet, and the Groundhogs release is obviously a poor video-to-DVD transfer that has problems with color bleeding and a general fuzziness. Nevertheless, when considering that you can pick these up for the price of a couple of decent beers, it would be churlish to really complain.

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