Tonight is a celebration of Keith Emerson, as his family, along with many friends and fans, are treated to three hours of music from his work with Emerson Lake & Palmer.
The sound tonight has more layers than a traditional ELP show thanks to the dual guitars of Marc Bonilla and Mike Wallace on most songs, which give the whole performance a metal edge. The guitarists are joined by bassist Travis Davis and drummer Gregg Bissonette. Bonilla also handles the vocals on nearly every song, and nails them brilliantly.
Steve Porcaro from Toto is the first to handle organ duties, giving a spirited rendition of The Barbarian, attempting to emulate Emerson’s live performance. He also performs the Emerson, Lake & Powell hit Touch And Go.
In an emotional performance, Keith’s son Aaron plays an original piano piece that he says his Dad loved. As he plays, the room is dark, with just a single light on him. The piece is performed wonderfully and receives a huge and well-deserved round of applause.
The show has its lighter side as well, with Brian Auger sharing some zany memories he had with Emerson before delving into an improv-laden mash‑up of Rondo and Fanfare For The Common Man. And in one of the more fun moments of the night, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter joins Bonilla and Wallace to trade guitar licks on their own version of Rondo.
The longest song of the night has Jordan Rudess behind the keys, performing the 20-minute prog classic Tarkus. Rudess nails the speed Emerson displayed in his prime, finding eerily similar sounds to match the original version, while also mixing in his own style to give it a unique and modern twist. Rudess mentions that Emerson was his hero, and that Tarkus changed his life.
In a fitting tribute, there’s a Moog modular system sitting on stage. For almost the entire show it remains untouched, until it’s finally played by Eddie Jobson, who controls the Moog like a doctor at work, plugging in the sounds and jamming in the process. During the solo in Lucky Man, the sheer power of the instrument is unleashed, and a thunderous sonic boom engulfs the theatre as we all feel the power that the machine possesses.
Jobson also performs Bitches Crystal and Fanfare…, with Steve Lukather on guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and conductor Terje Mikkelsen leading a brass section.
The 19-song show is touching and a great way to honour Keith Emerson, but the tribute also proves something else: there is only one Keith Emerson. His fiancée Mari Kawaguchi asks the crowd to play his music for younger generations, and for music teachers to show students how to perform his works, because that’s how he will live on.
The greatest keyboardist of all time may be gone, but he will always be remembered.