Keith Emerson & Greg Lake: Live From Manticore Hall

EL (no P) acoustic set shows the songs behind the spectacle.

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Recorded on the pair’s 2010 world tour, Live From Manticore Hall finds Keith Emerson and Greg Lake presenting stripped-down versions of (mostly) ELP tracks taken from their 1970s heyday.

Although the basic vocal/guitar/keyboard format suits some songs better than others, it’s a reasonably balanced set which, for better or worse, irons out some of the inconsistencies found in the ELP back catalogue. Interspersed with fireside-chat anecdotes and punctuated with a mid-show Q&A session, it also offers some intimate insights into the writing of some of ELP’s best-loved tunes, which veer from the baroque and the beautiful to the downright bizarre.

Kicking off with F_rom The Beginning _from 1972’s Trilogy album, the duo take a sudden sidestep with a moving take on King Crimson’s I Talk To The Wind, which up to this point Greg Lake hadn’t performed since 1969. Lake’s rich, resonant voice is still in fine form, which brings to mind Carl Palmer’s comments about ELP in 2010 simply not sounding as good as they used to.

A piano-led Bitches Crystal follows before The Barbarian and Take A Pebble showcase the broad sound spectrum found on ELP’s self-titled 1970 debut album. That said, it’s strange to hear The Barbarian without drums, and the electronic percussion deployed here is scarcely a replacement for the departed Palmer. Furthermore, shortening Tarkus to half its original length reduces it in more ways than one, although Emerson’s spirited synth solo is a welcome addition.

Forward in time to 1977’s sprawling and rather contentious Works Volume 1, our duo once again explore the extremes with renditions of the ballad C’est La Vie (subsequently a Number One hit for French crooner Johnny Hallyday) and the epic Pirates, which ELP performed with an orchestra back in the day. Even the added percussion and a frantic performance from Emerson can’t quite capture the preposterous glory of the original, but it’s still great to hear this buccaneering classic again.

The show concludes with yet more Moog mayhem in the form of some vamping from Keith Emerson which gives way to the debut-album ballad Lucky Man, a song added to the original record almost as an afterthought. If anything these slight exercises in streamlining offer some evidence that ELP didn’t solely rely on bulldozing their audience backed by a glut of bells, whistles and thing that go ‘ping!’ The trio also wrote some great songs, and a fair few of them still have legs. Greg Moffitt