For their first live album, the electronic rockers hooked up an entire concert hall to their gigantic quad console, and poured out a flood of electricity they hope will swamp the nation.
When wild-eyed musicians first began to squeeze notes from newly invented electronic instruments nearly three decades ago, they literally uncovered a new galaxy of sound. And even today, Moog synthesizers and mellotrons present almost unexplored musical territory. No one, not even the classically oriented Walter Carlos or the followers of John Cage, has done more than scratch the surface of the instruments tonal qualities.
Offering an infinite variety of sounds, the computerized machines almost defy control. Even with precise regulation the electronic tones issuing from the gills of the machines do not sound the same twice in a row. Consequently when you go to a concert where Moogs and ARPS are being played, you may be hearing compositions that will never reverberate across the air currents in the precise same pattern again.
When Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the worlds most cybernetic rock and roll band, toured the U.S.A. last spring, fans experienced dimensions of sound which amazed even long-standing ELP followers. The U.S. tour marked possibly the highest peak the trio had climbed musically, and they presented a performance that had to be captured live, said many, to be believed. They could never create it again - in a studio.
At the cavernous Anaheim Convention Center in southern California, late in February, the trio, their retinue of 40-odd roadies and technicians, and a recording team from the famous Wally Heider Recording Studio in Los Angeles hooked up ELPs mammoth 36-ton quadraphonic P.A. system. But this time there was also a 24-track mobile recording unit and a 40-input console using every position to track down the thundering drama of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in concert. It was the finest recording experience Ive ever had, declared Heider engineer, Peter Granet, "Emerson, Lake and Palmer Live (on Manticore Records) may be the record of the year.
Brain Salad butchered: When ELP recorded at Anaheim before 22,000 fans, scarcely three months had elapsed since the release of their first Manticore studio LP, Brain Salad Surgery. And even though the album had shipped gold and been proclaimed favorite of the year by many, the critics reaction to it dealt ELP a stunning blow. Emerson, Lake and Palmer had wanted Brain Salad to be a perfect album. They had spent a grueling 18 months, over 650 hours, in the studio working on it. They admitted that they had put more effort into it than theyd ever done on an album before. And it was panned.
ELP have always been perfectionists. But during the Brain Salad recording, recounted Greg, we got critical of ourselves; wed record something, mix it, take it home, listen and say, well, I dont like it after all. So wed go back to the studio, do another version of it, and decide, well maybe the first was the best after all.
They felt so intensely about the new creation it was difficult for them to talk about it. As a band were trying to advance our instruments, Greg offered, sometimes to a bizarre degree.
The band waited breathlessly for the worlds reaction to Brain Salad Surgery. But that breath was knocked out of them by the press and music critics one-two punch. Emerson, Lake and Palmer have served up a stale salad, quipped one smart reviewer. Others said it was unemotional. Some said it was chaotic, while others decided it was over-controlled.
After youve made four albums, people expect a certain thing from you and its harder to come up with something thatll surprise them, Greg observed, trying to swallow his disappointment.
Keith was more blunt: Im just going to get drunk and forget the whole thing, he told a British reporter.
But Greg was still brooding. It was a downer because we had worked on it for such a long time, put so much into it, so many finishing touches. We were pissed off when it was dismissed by a few people as if we had taken three weeks to make it. We cant write to order, you know, Greg explained. Like any form of art - painting or music - they just couldnt order up a new LP like a batch of McDonald hamburgers.
Emotional Emerson: Keith tried to understand why the critics had called them unemotional. How many different emotions are there? Like anger, hate, love. All these emotions are created from their opposite. Before they say were being unemotional, theyd better get to know us a lot better. Theyve got to get down to what created the emotion in the first place. The way we created a piece of music might come from a lot of different areas of emotion, but nobody has the right to criticize us and say its unemotional until they really know exactly what it is that makes us create the music in the first place.
If anyone doubted the groups emotional power, all they had to do was catch them live. For many fans the U.S. tour was the ultimate meeting of the minds. For the first time rock people began to understand what ELP was trying to do emotionally and musically. And when it came time to record a live album they had no choice but to tape the entire show in running order.
Top-notch taping: Taping an ELP concert, believe it or not, was actually easier than live-recording a group who use conventional amplified instruments. Electromusic expert Gregg Xanthus Winter explained how it was done. Carls drums had the mikes set directly into them. So instead of having to worry about the mikes crashing down and falling over during a number they became an integral part of the kit, nor would the cymbals cause them to move. There were 15 mikes on the drums alone.
All of Keiths electronic equipment was fed directly into the tape console. ELP took the electronic signal and split it between the P.A. system and the recording console. The tape picked up a perfectly clean sound on Keith. Gregs mikes, though, picked up some audience sound, and during the acoustic numbers, Still, You Turn Me On, and Lucky Man, Greg used special highly directional mikes.
It was an incredible show that was etched on to the electronic tapes. Opening with a jumping Hoe Down, they moved into the clear notes of Jerusalem. It was something of a quiet moment of invocation before they launched into the intricate balance of delicacy and violence which is Toccata; then into the bellowing Tarkus, and on nonstop into Take a Pebble. In the middle of the Pebble jam, Greg, breaking the tension, went into the two acoustic pieces, Still, and Lucky Man, and then rounded back into Pebble. As if that wasnt enough, Pebble was followed by a medley of Jeremey [sic] Bender, and Sheriff. And the main show ended with a tremendous dose of Karn Evil 9.
"We recorded the applause, too," declared Peter Granet, "and then they did 'Pictures At An Exhibition' as an encore. We would have included it on the album too, but that would have made it a four record set, instead of just a three record one."
Eight-handed board band: Wally Heider Studios, the following couple of days, was buzzing with excitement. We all helped mix the tapes, recalled Peter Granet. At some times there were as many as eight hands on the board at once. Everybodys ideas were listened to. It was a tremendous cooperative effort. Everything was very open, they were a pleasure to work with, they knew exactly what they wanted.
It is the most energetic, full, live album Ive ever heard, continued Peter from his office at Heider Studios. The listener, if he closes his eyes, gets the feeling of sitting at the mixers desk in the center of the auditorium itself. The finest spot in the entire hall - the exact point of reference for quadraphonic sound. What you hear and feel, the engineer went on enthusiastically, is the stage about 100 feet in front of you. You feel the distances, the 200 yards of space behind you and the sound whacking and bouncing off all the walls at once. And it just never stops. It just blows you out.
All the excitement of that concert and of the American tour was successfully captured on the album. I think they came off better on the live album, than they have on the studio records, confided a Manticore staff member. ELP is a performing band and were at our best when were interrelating with our audience, explained Greg. We just want to do something that will entertain them, that will surprise them, or maybe even shock them. Of course were not going to get respect by letting off a couple of cannons, but it might startle a few people.
For their last live performance in the States, ELP brought down the house at the California Jam. It was the fantastic trios first American festival appearance, and they were billed to close the show. It would have been the smoothest run the band had ever experienced had Deep Purple not given them problems, delaying the acts by refusing to appear until it was totally dark. Because of the heavy metal bands childishness, as one observer put it, it was 1 AM before ELP got on stage. And it was freezing. The Ontario Motor Speedway, the site of the 200,000 person festival, is located on the desert, and although it was 90 degrees by day, after the sun set the mercury hurtled down the gauge at ten degrees an hour.
After the jam ELP zoomed back to England where exuberant fans filled the enormous Wembley Pool stadium outside London for two, then three, then four sold-out performances. The press slagging had obviously made no dent in the wizards magnetism at the box office. ELP were clearly the #1 super-group of their homeland.
Future solos: After the British tour, though, the trio went three separate ways, each to cut tracks on the solo albums theyve had in the works for what seems like years. Keith admitted, Ive become very conscientious, very critical about my solo work now. Im taking my time on it. While we were recording Brain Salad Surgery I was putting down one track every six months. Now the keyboardsman will be able to finish it up.
Greg, who previously declared that he didnt attach much importance to solo LPs, now amends his statement. Such efforts should be made up of things we cant do within the band. Maybe Keith would get into some specialist piano things - 20s boogies or something. It will be as kind of a hobby that we do solos. Lake expressed an interest in producing Barbra Streisand, of all people, and some new talent. Meanwhile Carl Palmer laid down some drum tracks in Los Angeles. It was very successful, he smiled. I was working with Joe Walsh. But Ill finish it up in London.
The live album will be the last ELP group effort to be released for a number of months. It is a document of the fun-loving trios musical genius. It grew out of their love of creating music, of imagining great stage shows and performances. For a lot of rock and rollers music comes out of difficulty, out of rebellion; for ELP it comes out of a life-affirming zest plus will and imagination. And it is best captured live.