Music Video Distributors // 1970 // 41 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // October 5th, 2001
The roots of progressive rock.
Emerson Lake and Palmer led a movement of progressive rock and roll that combined elements of classical and jazz in an improvisational, experimental style that resounded with audiences in the 1970s. The band was unusual for its three man structure, and the emphasis of keyboards over guitar. After a very hectic history of breakups, solo albums, and movie soundtracks they reunited in the last several years once more. But Pictures at an Exhibition takes you back to nearly the beginning; back to 1970 and a live concert at Lyceum Theater in London on December 9th. The concert was filmed but would not be seen in America until about a year later, since their US distributor said the concert was "a piece of shit that would damage their careers." But after it became a huge hit in Europe (with 50,000 copies being sold in America from European distributors) they felt differently and released it, where it reached multi-platinum status. That concert film, and the soundtrack album that accompanied it, are both now available on a DVD/CD set from Music Video Distributors.
In 1969 Keith Emerson was playing for a band called Nice, and Greg Lake was playing for another popular British band called King Crimson. After playing at the same concerts a couple times, the two tried working together, and felt the match was a good one. At that point they went looking for a drummer to finish what they wanted to be a keyboard/bass/drum band. Ultimately Carl Palmer was picked to fill that niche, but it almost didn't happen that way. In fact, the band might have been forever seen differently if they had gone with the first drummer they wanted, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitch was their first pick for drummer, and when Mitch brought up the idea to Jimi Hendrix, he also expressed an interest in playing with the group. Even after Mitchell fell out of the running, the guitar guru was still interested. The band's name was almost Hendrix, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, or HELP. Practice sessions were arranged, but Hendrix died tragically before they could be realized. Such is the twists of fate. Fortunately this did not stop the group, only putting them back where they intended to be with keyboard wizard Keith Emerson as the major lead musician.
Certainly I was around and even beginning my time in the music scene when Emerson Lake and Palmer hit the charts in America, but I confess I was only mildly interested. Bands that pioneered the heavy metal movement such as Led Zeppelin were far more to my liking. Had Hendrix joined the group I'd have felt far differently. Later I started to appreciate the band more, as my tastes expanded away from pure hard rock and into other forms. But this was my first exposure to Pictures at an Exhibition. This was before the days of the flying, spinning grand piano, but unfortunately not before the advent of paisley and psychedelic clothing. The outfits are perhaps the hardest thing to watch during the concert.
Sonically the group was impressive, with what appeared to be experimental ramblings of jazz and rock fused together. The extravagant use of the Moog synthesizer created a whole new sound. As in much of ELP's best work, Pictures at an Exhibition is a thematic album, written off of classical pieces and given their own artistic interpretation.
This is a very unusual DVD release, as it is a DVD-Video disc on one side and a standard CD of the soundtrack album on the other. The filmed concert on DVD was remastered into a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and the soundtrack CD remains pure stereo. Both sound clean and clear, and better than I expected from such old source materials. However, I'd have to give the edge in sound quality to the CD track, though frankly there is little difference between the two tracks, whichever side you happen to play. This isn't a true multi-channel recording, and the remaster doesn't try to make it one. The soundstage is fairly confined with a Dolby Pro-Logic encoder engaged, and sounded better on either side with all processing removed, making it pure two-channel stereo. I don't count this as a minus, especially since we're listening to the recording the way it was released.
The video is also better than I expected. I first played this disc on my old Toshiba player, which soon after gave up after thousands of hours of daily playing. I noticed some heavy combing that time around, and put the disc aside until I could be sure it wasn't the player creating the artifacts. It appears it was indeed the player, because I noticed nothing like this on my new Panasonic RP-91 DVD Audio/Video player. I only mention this on the off chance that there was some incompatibility with the Toshiba. The picture was clear, and colors were vivid this time, though the image is very soft. Still very watchable, the concert is a piece of history worthy of being preserved in digital format. Bios for the band comprise the only real extra content.
That doesn't mean I liked every aspect of the concert. When I called some of the music experimental, I really meant that. Emerson in particular often seemed to be trying things to find out what they sounded like. The low moment came when he used a synthesizer input device to wipe his butt and hear what sounds would come out. Music wasn't really the biggest thing on my mind at that moment. I actually prefer the CD soundtrack for that selection so I don't have to see how the sounds are being produced. Often Emerson looked more like an electronics tech with his test equipment as his music making was comprised of turning knobs on the synthesizer and listening for the changes. This doesn't mean there wasn't real musical talent being displayed; I think Keith Emerson's talents on the keyboards cannot be disputed. It just didn't look right all the time.
Fans of ELP will be happy to have this concert film in a presentable format, and to even get the soundtrack album on CD in the same package. It wasn't advertised as a special feature, but I'd consider it enough of one to more than forgive the sparse text based extras. DVD-Audio fans will also be happy to know that ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery" is available in the format with a multi-channel soundtrack. Until you get that DVD-Audio player, and even after, this disc will do well in your music collection.
There are no charges to be brought, and no penalties to be imposed. The band and the concert disc are free to be enjoyed by the public.
Review content copyright © 2001 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Video Distributors
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 41 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* CD Soundtrack album
* Band Member Bios
* Official Site