ELP: far too loud

THE disc-jockey Alan Freeman has been associated for some time with Emerson, Lake and Palmer - ever since he dared to play an excerpt from “Pictures At An Exhibition’ on Pick Of The Pops. Last weekend, he introduced the group on stage at Wembley’s Empire Pool with the ritzy slogan that has been created for their current British tour: “Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends...ELP!’

And bizarre though this friendly link between Freeman and ELP might at first seem, it makes complete sense. For both parties are steeped in unadulterated showbiz. Over-conscious of the images they project, hell-bent on putting over razzamataz, in the great tradition of the music hall, they drain the last ounce of energy from themselves for visual effect.

It’s a stark contrast with bands which concentrate on music alone. Last Friday’s show was a monument to high energy rock, a blitzkrieg which left us breathless with admiration for the sheer spectacle which often resembled something out of the Royal Tournament.

Musically, the performance lacked light and shade, relying too heavily on volume to assail the senses and attack the stream of consciousness. Yet the ecstatic audience did not need to go merely for the music; here was a muscle flexing exercise to see the mighty electronic work of Keith Emerson, the exaggerated, gargantuan drumming complexes of Carl Palmer and the super-smooth guitar/vocal invasions of Greg Lake.

The selections began with pieces from “Brain Salad Surgery” and went through all their recorded works, with the highlights in “Tarkus” and, as always, “Pictures At An Exhibition.”

The backdrop of pictures on a giant screen never seemed to make the impact they should have achieved, mainly through the age-old problem of mixing inanimate objects with live human beings on a stage. But the pictures were quite imaginative, and reflected the moods of the sounds quite well.

The magic moments came from Emerson and Palmer. Keith vaulted the safety rails aided by roadies, to scorch his way through the audience blazing off fireworks as he rattled off messages from his Moog stick, the electronic “wand” that keeps contact with his Moog.

Contorted and affecting all sorts of gruesome postures, Keith proved he has this rabble-rousing episode perfected to a fine art, and the people whom he touched with the Moog, or his hands, reached out as if they had found a faith healer.

Carl’s drum bash climaxed with a beautifully lit revolving stage which was the natural end to his private exhibition. Quite splendid.

The worst aspect of the show was the volume. The word had it that they had the same power output for this 8,000-seater venue as was used for 20,000-capacity halls - and it appeared that way. The sound was far too loud and actually harmed the effect. For two hours after the show, I could hear nothing, and drove what I believed to be the world’s first silent car. Admittedly I was near the front of the Empire Pool, but so were a lot of others, and many were complaining that the volume was too high.

In the foyer there was more proof of the unashamedly theatrical excesses of the ELP monster. Stalls sold cut-price albums, T-shirts at £1, posters at 40p, buttons 10p, programmes 40p, pendants £1, stickers 10p, patches at 35p.

For all the misgivings, though, ELP offer an astonishing experience, to which everyone must react. They have pushed rock theatrics to its limit, with blinding histrionics and layers upon layers of carefully produced visuals. The perfect end would be for them to disappear through a puff of blue smoke. Perhaps on the next tour - RAY COLEMAN.