Eagle Rock Entertainment // 1972 // 96 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // July 27th, 2010
Captures the band at their virtuoso best.
People who complain that U2's Bono is a bombastic egomaniac have clearly never seen Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Here is a band made up of three Bonos, each one hammering the audience mercilessly with showboating, soloing, and mugging to a degree hitherto unseen in the Western (or even Eastern) Hemisphere. Of course, ELP fans wouldn't have it any other way. You don't listen to ELP for subtlety, nuance, or gentleness; you're there to see keyboardist Keith Emerson, singer/bassist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer bludgeon their instruments and play compositions (not songs -- almost never songs) that last three times as long as some bands' entire set lists. In that regard, Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Pictures At An Exhibition (Special Edition) delivers in spades.
Pictures At An Exhibition was recorded at London's Lyceum Ballroom on December 9, 1970. Here is the set list:
* "The Gnome"
* "The Sage"
* "The Old Castle"
* "Blues Variation"
* "The Hut of Baba Yaga"
* "The Curse of Baba Yaga"
* "The Hut of Baba Yaga"
* "The Great Gate of Kiev"
* "Take a Pebble"
* "Knife Edge"
The first eleven songs are all, of course, based on Modest Mussorgsky's classical composition "Pictures at an Exhibition." What ELP adds are the elements that Mussorgsky would never have envisioned (or, possibly, approved): lengthy synthesizer and organ improvisations by Emerson, thundering irregular time signatures by Palmer, and portentous lyrics and vocals by Lake. Emerson's keyboard solos are clearly the star attraction; he has undeniable chops and he's not afraid to experiment in any direction. As for Palmer, he doesn't so much keep the beat as he does play around it, soloing and crashing around without a drop in energy. For his part, Lake's vocals are strong, but it's his bass playing that's most remarkable, forcefully holding Emerson and Palmer together. The net effect is as brutal as any heavy metal or punk band, except without any electric guitars whatsoever. It's certainly not for everybody -- there's little here that approaches a pop hook or easily hummable melody -- but if you're in the mood for something more aggressive and experimental, this is as good as a place as any. Dismissed by the punk-rock intelligentsia as bloated and boring, ELP actually retain, in all their flash and fervor, far more raw rock & roll energy than most of the acclaimed artists who followed them. The other three songs, two from the band's 1970 self-titled debut album and a cover of Dave Brubeck's "Rondo," are a bit more restrained, especially since they have moments featuring Emerson playing piano and Lake playing acoustic guitar, but considering that each song lasts at least 10 minutes, they're still hardly mild-mannered. They do demonstrate that ELP could be more dexterous than they were frequently given credit for, but there's still plenty of bare-knuckle swagger to please fans.
The concert itself is definitive. The visual presentation, on the other hand, is obnoxious. Imagine the silliest, tackiest psychedelic effects you've ever seen in a Roger Corman film and multiply them by a factor of 10. Camera zooms, reverse images, swirly kaleidoscopic patterns, and, worst of all, bizarre montages of Marvel Comics characters (?). Here is a concert of ELP's legendary stage act and we don't even get to see the band perform as much as we want to. How are viewers supposed to appreciate Emerson hurling daggers at his organ and riding it like a horse when the visuals get in the way? Still, the music is so perfectly representative that even with this flaw, this still remains one of the best recordings of ELP at the peak of their powers.
Technically, the concert is at least solid. The full-screen transfer looks remarkably good for its age. The concert was shot on video, not film, so it does look somewhat hazy and a bit washed out at times, but for the most part, the image is excellent. The PCM stereo mix is nice and loud and well-balanced. Eagle Rock usually provides great sound mixes and though apparently there was no way to remix the music into 5.1 surround, the mix is good enough as it is. As for bonus features, the disc includes Pop Shop 1971 (52:05), a concert filmed in Belgium in 1971 that also includes a brief interview segment with the band members. Here is the set list for that performance:
* "Take a Pebble"
* "Knife Edge"
* "Blues Jam/Nutrocker"
Unlike the main concert, this was shot on film and is a bit more worn and scratched in spots, but generally it looks fine. The pseudo-psychedelic effects are toned down considerably, so you'll get to see more of ELP's performance. It's a great show and, though it's considerably shorter, has plenty of classic ELP bombast. Also, because it's in a more intimate theater, the band members actually joke and banter with the audience, proving that they were nowhere near as humorless as they were often depicted. The disc is rounded out with the film's trailer (4:02).
Ultimately, Pictures At An Exhibition is possibly the definitive ELP DVD, for better and for worse. It's lacking many of the band's more renowned radio hits (mainly Lake's acoustic guitar ballads like "Lucky Man" and "Still...You Turn Me On") and it's hard to overstate just how infuriating the visuals are. Nonetheless, it can safely be said that if you don't like this concert, ELP is probably not for you. If, however, you're in the mood for pure musical testosterone delivered with no subtlety or apology, this has plenty. Recommended for those moments when you just don't have enough bluster in your life.
Not guilty through sheer brazenness.
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* Full Frame
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Bonus Performance
* Official Website