Tarkus to the Limit

Emerson rounds up his Nice buddies to noodle out a bunch of old favourites, before the metamorphosis into...a counterfeit ELP.

Keith Emerson & The Nice

Carting Apollo, Hammersmith, London

KEITH EMERSON INSISTS THAT THE REBIRTH of The Nice is about expanding the boundaries of progressive rock, or something like that. So please don’t dare to suggest that The Nice - keyboard wizard Emerson, bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson and drummer Brian ‘Blinky’ Davison - have united after 32 years due to the unavailability of Emerson Lake & Palmer, right?

Bizarrely, Jim Davidson warms up the audience with a few one-liners, encouraging punters in the less-than-full stalls to move forwards while “somebody walks Lee Jackson around the car park to sober him up”. As the audience tire of his banter (“That your missus, mate? No wonder you tried to sneak her in in the dark”), the Apollo rise to see Emerson embrace the (alleged) comedian, and the show begins.

Commencing with ‘America’/‘Rondo’, the West Side Story anthem they broke through with in 1968, was a brave move, as some people may have headed for the door after ‘America’, believing it to be the band’s only work of real significance.

‘America’ aside, the show’s first half is hit-and-miss. Much of The Nice’s original material has failed to stand the test of time, and Jackson’s vocals on ‘Tantalising Maggie’ and the twee ‘Little Arabella’ (the latter introduced by Emerson as about “a very accommodating lady - and I don’t mean she ran a bed and breakfast”) are quite woeful.

Emerson’s prowess on keyboards remains breathtaking. But the thread that holds things together is actually David Kilminster. Known as a prog rock hired gun - he’s played with John Wetton, Ken Hensley and Carl Palmer - Kilminster gives a modern twist to the role of absent guitarist Davey O’List, his runs flashy yet fluid, somehow not sounding out of place amid the classical overtones of Sibelius’s ‘Karelia Suite’. After a short interlude and three solo Emerson piano pieces, Kilminster plays an impressive solo spot and his own composition ‘Just Crazy’. With some people’s attention probably starting to wane by this point, Jackson and Davidson’s places are taken by Phil Williams and Pete Riley respectively, and the hall erupts as Emerson announces nonchalantly: “We’re going to play ‘Tarkus’ - all of it”.

As the 1971 behemoth unravels, Kilminster initially interprets Greg Lake’s words via the frets (ironic, as Carl Palmer has also hired a guitarist, Shaun Baxter, to recreate Emerson’s own contribution to the ELP classics). But as the song reaches the ‘Battlefield’ section, Kilminster takes to the mic, and even drops in a line or two from King Crimson’s ‘Epitaph’.

From there, The Nice (ahem!) can simply do no wrong, and the set concludes magnificently with ‘Touch And Go’ (from the ‘Emerson Lake & Powell’ album), ‘Hoedown’ and the inevitable ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’. Save for a superfluous drum solo, the show is hard to criticise, although amid the denser, more pompous strains of ‘Touch And Go’ we soon realise that Kilminster will never match the effortless power of Greg Lake’s voice.

‘Honky Tonk Train Blues’, from ELP’s ‘Works, Volume 2’ is a great encore, and with Lee and Davison returning, and Emerson unleashing a frantic, squealing Moog solo, things end in a mood of riotous celebration. If only Lake and Palmer had been there to share in the glory.

~ Dave Ling

Tantalising Maggie
Little Arabella
The Cry Of Eugene
Hang On To A Dream
Country Pie
Karelia Suite
Creole Dance
A Blade Of Grass
A Cajun Alley
Just Crazy
Touch And Go
Fanfare For The Common Man
Honky Tonk Train Blues