Tag Archives: ELP

Yes, No or Maybe?

YesAsiaPalmer2019_ad2I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to my teenage years, and I’ve seen them more than any other band since. My first chance to see the group was during 1977’s Going for the Onetour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. It began a lifelong patronage.

The Revolving Door: Before and since that first experience, the lineup of musicians who play as part of Yes has been ever changing. Jon Anderson (original vocalist), Steve Howe (guitars), Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye (keyboards) have come and gone more than once. Guitarist Steve Howe joined after original member Pete Banks left, and Trevor Rabin replaced him in the 80s. Drummer Alan White joined after original maestro Bill Bruford left just before the Close to the Edgetour. In 1980 Jon left for what turned out to be one record, and Trevor Horn sang vocals while Geoff Downes, his partner in the Buggles played keys. Personnel changes only accelerated after that, from 1980 up through today.

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I’ve continued to see the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s second departure in 2008, due to health issues. When Anderson left for that second time, the band first recruited singer Benoit David, then current singer Jon Davison, who is skilled at covering Anderson’s vocal parts. In 2015 we mourned the passing of Chris Squire, the exceptional bass player and vocalist for Yes and it’s most consistent member. When Squire first announced that his illness would preclude his involvement in the remainder of 2015’s Yes tour, he also indicated his support for collaborator Billy Sherwood, who stepped into the role with grace and reverence, bringing his own skills and style to the stage. Alan White’s recent surgery sidelined him, and ex-Hurricane/Conspiracy/Asia drummer Jay Schellen replaces White for most of the show. Last year, and two years prior, we were able to catch three other core members of Yes billed as ARW – Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman for several solid performances that found Jon’s voice completely recovered from prior illness. Whew, so many Yes’s so little time!

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Which Yes is Yes?Unfortunately, rabid fans carp about “which Yes is Yes” constantly on social media, acting as if they hold the title of band manager, planner, and critic. A common post is “no Yes without Jon” as fans then argue about whether the “official” Yes led by Steve Howe (and Chris Squire before his passing) have any right to play the songs without Jon Anderson. Some of the critics attended the limited ARW tours over the last few years and when they decry the official act, call it a “tribute” or “cover” band. Taste is subjective, but the criticism of particular members gets harsh.

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The Important Point:In reality, there’s been something to admire in every Yes tour since the band’s inception and always there have been transcendent moments, no matter what combination of musicians are on stage. Fundamentally, the compositions are amazing and the performances are inspiring as Yes builds their long songs to astral crescendos of power and emotion. They are truly an amazing band, packed with virtuoso musicians whatever the collective, and they are the musicians I’ve seen play live more than any other. This fan catches as many Yes (official), ARW, and Wakeman or Anderson solo tours as possible. Soon, with the passing of time, there will be no more original members of Yes, unfortunately and the baton will be “officially” handed over to tribute bands. If I’m still on this mortal coil I will be there still as this music is meant to be heard in a live setting, and it’s magical when done right.

Case in Point:This year the band booked a summer tour of America, the Royal Affair tour with openers Asia, John Lodge (of the Moody Blues) and Carl Palmer (of ELP) opening.

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YesAsiaPalmer2019_KR_Asia1The show at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga was fantastic. Carl Palmer led his small band through several highlights from the ELP catalog with Arthur Brown covering lead vocals and delivering us his 1960’s hit “Fire” as well. I have to admit we skipped the set from The Moody Blues’ John Lodge’s to go talk to Roger Dean who was showing his work, but he was very well received. We were back inside for Asia, who nailed a rousing set of their best tracks, along with “Lucky Man” from ELP. Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal expertly covered the lead vocal duties formerly helmed by the late John Wetton, and played guitar through the first part of the set, after which Steve Howe did a walk on for the older songs.

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Once Yes took the stage, they performed rousing renditions of songs like “Tempus Fugit” and “Siberian Khatru” at the proper pace and with accuracy. The centerpiece moment this time was a piece of music they hadn’t played for decades, side one of Relayer (1975) — “The Gates of Delirium” and “Soon.” This is over 20 minutes of the most challenging progressive rock the band ever wrote, with one-time keyboard player Patrick Moraz. While it cleared a few rows of attendees out of the venue, we were transfixed. Howe sliced thru the staccato guitar riffs that lead into and reach crescendo during “the battle” section of “Gates…” as the long song tells the tale of the development, pursuit, and aftermath of war. Downes hit his leads, Davison nailed the highest notes, and Sherwood gently colored “Soon’s” soft tones with care that would have made Squire proud. If the group as rumored will be back to do the whole album with Moraz guesting, it will be spectacular.

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Every band that night had experienced the loss of former colleagues who have passed on. We lost Asia’s John Wetton, and Keith Emerson and Greg Lake from ELP just over the last few years. Songs were highlighted during those sets as being played for these fallen musical heroes, to somber effect, and some celebration of lives well lived and music shared.

All in all a great show – one that left an exclamation mark on the statement that anyone interested in seeing members of Yes ply their most amazing trade live, should be going out to support them. In addition, Rick Wakeman just played Journey to the Center of the Earthon two nights in London for what he says is the last time. He is doing a solo tour of the states this fall, as is Jon Anderson. So hey, we get to see almost every key member who’ve been in Yes over these many years, just on different nights – go for the one!

(A shout out to Kim – Most fabulous photos above © kimreedphotos.com)

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

mccartneypaulwings_rockshowcover_72dpiAnother thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.

Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Caught on Celluloid

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My old neighborhood Theater

With the recent passing of Lemmy, Keith Emerson, Glen Frey, David Bowie and other rock heroes, I’ve been thinking about how important rock concert films are to the preservation of their music and performances. I don’t know many fans who collect these films, but there are many worth having, good for cranking up on a Friday night while unwinding from the week passed… The notes below illuminate the history of rock music movies, with a particular focus on concert film, rather than the use of rock music within a film. Concert films capture our rock heroes in their best moments, on the lighted stage, entertaining and amazing us with their showmanship, virtuosity, and aplomb. With some of them leaving this mortal coil, it’s a good time to reflect on these celluloid documents….

The relationship between popular music and the movies has been challenging, and while there are plenty of examples of opportunistic, awkward marriages, there are many others where the power of the movies and rock music combined have been magic. At the dawn of the form, Bill Haley’s 1954 single “Rock Around the Clock,” his “novelty foxtrot” did not dent the charts until it was included in the soundtrack for the Richard Brooks film The Blackboard Jungle, which itself became a sell out, pushing the single to number one. Two years later Elvis Presley burst on the scene and built his career on combining popular music and film, reaching audiences worldwide with his charismatic performances. Some felt these performances were a tad embarrassing, but they accomplished the goal of both entertaining fans, and expanding audiences. Across the pond in Britain, a similar evolution was taking place, with Tommy Steele starring in his own movie The Tommy Steele Story (1957) after releasing just a few hit singles. Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Jeff Conrad, Cliff Richard and many others followed suit, either on early rock music television shows, or on the big screen. But it was The Beatles who became a global phenomenon in part due to the strength of their appearances on television specials and variety shows in Britain, America and beyond. They were also a key part of establishing the bond between storytelling and rock music, as seen in their 1965 classic Help!

JethroTull_NothingIsEasy_72dpiAs the 1960s came to a close, rock and roll stars were beginning to literally take center stage, making records without hired studio musicians, and selling their wares based on the strength of their musicianship and performances alone. Rock festivals became cultural phenomena, and several of these were captured on film at the close of the decade, setting the scene for the advent of concert films throughout the 1970s. Monterey Pop (1969) caught Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a host of rockers in defining moments on stage. In the United Kingdom, The Isle of Wight festival in 1970 was filmed and led to a host of complete performances on film, including legendary videos of The Who and Jethro Tull. Arguably, the biggest, most important rock movie to start the decade was Woodstock (1970). Documenting the festival that took place on the 600-acre Woodstock_40thAnniversary_72dpifarm in upper New York State, the “celebration of love and peace” offered the screen up to The Who, Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and a host of other 60s rock acts, many of whom went on to major stardom. The film captured the spirit of the 60s, placing emphasis on the best sentiments of the hippie culture, and the heroes who spoke for them through music and performance. In stark contrast, Gimmie Shelter (1970) graphically captured the dark side of the movement, as members of the Hell’s Angels, who were policing the Rolling Stones free concert at Altamount Speedway east of San Francisco, beat a young black concertgoer to death in front of the band, symbolically ending the youth movement of the decade passed. As if to drive the point home, The Beatles’ Let It Be (1970), released theatrically in May 1970, depicted the sweet and sour dissolution of their union, capturing the band recording what would became their last albums Abbey Road and Let It Be. It is an important and rare document of the band in the studio, and on rooftop of the Apple building where they performed a short set live together for the last time, before being interrupted by the police.

Williams_PhantomOfThe Paradise_72dpiIt was during this tumultuous time that concert films took center stage in theaters, illuminating the live concert experience for posterity, favoring bands playing live on stage over scripted storytelling. While rock music was heard in countless soundtracks of the era, only a handful of movies featuring rock stars fronting their own story, or a fictional tale were funded and released. The first truly notable example of this form was Phantom of the Paradise (1974). Directed by Brian De Palma, this cult classic is about a record producer who claims as his own the music of a brilliant composer. The composer exacts his revenge Curry_RockyHorrorPictureShow_72dpiin the thrilling climax. Paul Williams received Academic Award and Gold Globe nominations for his musical score. This epic was followed the next year by the film, Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). This cult classic is an homage to science fiction and B horror films, boasting a soundtrack with almost two dozen unforgettable songs that have become classics in their own right such as “Sweet Transvestite,” “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” and “The Time Warp.”

Who_Tommy_72dpiNext up was The Who’s Tommy (1975). Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest rock albums ever made, Tommy is a tale in music of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who inspires others to transcend their everyday circumstances. The film adaptation stars lead singer Roger Daltrey and features Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson and Elton John. The Who would be back at the end of the decade with Quadrophenia (1979). A battle between two rival gangs, the Mods and the Rockers, this movie uses the music of the Who to explore the dark side of growing up in London in the mid-1960s. Some of the Who’s greatest songs are featured, such as “The Real Me” and “Love Reign O’er Me.”

Who_IsleofWightCover_72dpiOther than these examples of storytelling, the decade would instead give favor to actual live concert films. One of the first filmed performances was also by The Who in December 1969 when the band began touring Tommy with a set list including nearly the entire rock opera. Tucked away as an extra on The Who film Live at Kilburn: 1977 (1977) is a film of that concert at the London Coliseum in December 1969. It’s not the best film, as the 16mm cameras could barely capture the show, which was not lit properly for film, an issue that plagues many movies from the decade. But it’s a key document of this legendary band delivering one of the first rock concept albums on stage. A much more watchable set was released as Live at the Isle of Wight (1970) which catches the band delivering an amazing concert at the Isle of Wight Festival. Taking the stage at 2 am in the morning, they played several songs, then most of the Tommy album to 600,000 people. These shows kicked off the decade, setting the stage for a wealth of films to come.

McCartneyPaulWings_RockShowCover_72dpiMany of these best concert films of the 1970s will be reviewed within the pages of my upcoming book. Some were released to theaters during the decade, such as ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1970), Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii (1972), Yes’ Yessongs (1973), Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same (1976), Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare (1976), Genesis’ in Concert (1977), The Band’s The Last Waltz (1978), but many more have been unearthed, restored and released on home video long after the end of the era. The decade closed with the release of one of the best-filmed concerts from that time, Paul McCartney and Wings Rock Show (1980). This concert, from the 1975-1976 “Wings Over the World” tour shows McCartney and Wings at their absolute best. The band play many of McCartney solo hits as well as some Beatles songs such as “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Blackbird.” It’s an exceptional film that will take any viewer right into the concert experience. It’s absolutely one of the best concert films of all time.

With the sad passing of David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Keith Emerson, here are a few titles worth consideration (apologies to Lemmy, I did not find any films of Motorhead from the 70s):

David Bowie

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – The Motion Picture

BowieDavid_ZiggyDVDCover_72dpiThe best official film of David Bowie’s career in the 1970s is the 1973 movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – The Motion Picture. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, this is a rare chance to see Bowie during his glam period, taking the stage wrapped in his most influential alter ego. Fifteen songs from the set list are presented, along with a few behind the scenes shots of Bowie back stage and yhr fans out front. It’s not a polished product; the sound is flawed, sometimes brash, and lots of shots are blurry. But the 1.33:1 framing and source material that exposes extra grain and grit seems somehow representative of the early years of the glam movement. The film played in movie theaters in the early 1970s for a brief time, and was later screened frequently as a cult classic.

David Bowie: Live at NHK Hall in Budokan Japan on December 12, 1978
The next official Bowie film would not be released until the Serious Moonlight tour of 1983. It means that there is no officially released video to document several key concert tours in the intervening years from 1974 to 1982. Possibly the best film that was made captured a jubilant, well-groomed Bowie performing at the NHK Hall in Budokan Japan on December 12, 1978 on the last night of the Low and “Heroes” tour. Bowie himself is a revelation, leading his all-star band while surrounded by pulsating fluorescent light tubes through a show that clearly influenced a host of new wave artists who followed. An hour of this fabulous concert was broadcast on Japanese television including a thirteen-minute rendition of the title track from Station to Station. The film is well preserved and available on YouTube or via an unofficial DVD release from heavymetalweb.net. Recordings from the same tour were assembled for the double live album Stage, released in 1978.

Eagles           

Eagles_historyCover_72dpiEagles Live at the Capital Centre March 1977. Jigsaw Productions, DVD
This concert is on the third disc of the 2013 documentary History of the Eagles. It captures the band in Washington D.C. on the Hotel California tour playing many of their most popular songs. A critic once accused the Eagles with “loitering on stage” and it’s true the band exuded the laid back California vibes perfectly captured in their music.Yet their laconic style does not seem a disadvantage all these years later, and it’s a pleasure to watch this concert film. The dual guitar jam during the title track alone is worth the price of the set.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer  

Pictures at an Exhibition (1970) Eagle Rock, 144 min., DVD
This DVD shows ELP playing their version of Mussorgsky’s masterpiece and other songs at the Lyceum in London. An excess of psychedelic effects mar the footage, but ELP’s musicianship is magnificent.

ELP_DVD_Cover_72dpiBeyond the Beginning [2 DVD set] Sanctuary Records, 250 min., DVD
A variety of clips of varying quality from the band’s early career are presented here. Although some of the video is out of synch with the audio, this is a worthwhile and essential collection of concert appearances by a talented and thrilling band. The highlight is their set at California Jam on the legendary Brain Salad Surgery tour.

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Keith Emerson, Cal Jam 1973

Top: Photo of the Corbin Theater above, after it was converted to a X-rated theater, late 70s….

 

PFM Cooks

PFM_SinglePhoto_72dpiPremiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) is an Italian progressive rock band founded in 1970. PFM’s unique blend of influences and genre-bending compositions echoed many of the themes of their British counterparts such as Genesis and Gentle Giant, while never sounding derivative. Given their Italian heritage, the difference with PFM was in their sense of drama and bravado, their lush melodies and operatic flourishes, all delivered in a blues and rock framework that incorporated elements of traditional Italian music. On top of their skills at composing and arranging these pieces, every band member was a virtuoso musician, including Franz Di Cioccio (drums, lead vocals), Franco Mussida (guitars, lead vocals), Mauro Pagani (violin, flute), and Flavio Premoli (keyboards, lead vocals). Original bass player Giorgio Piazza left the band just after the release of Photos of Ghosts, and was replaced by another fantastic bassist, Patrick Djivas, who has remained with the group ever since. Of the many amazing things about PFM, their live performances are legendary in prog circles based on the sheer adrenaline and talent of the musicianship on display. At times each player seemed to be outdoing the next while extending jams to such a frenetic pace, one would be reminded of a wayward locomotive train, threatening to, but never actually careening off the tracks.

PFM_PhotosOfGhostsCover_72dpiPFM was founded at the dawn of the 1970s, recording two albums with Italian language lyrics Storia di un minuto and Per un amico in 1971-72 before coming to the attention of Greg Lake who signed the band to ELP’s new label Manticore. Lake arranged for lyricist Peter Sinfield, who had worked with King Crimson, ELP and others to write new lyrics, at which point the band re-recorded some of their existing songs and new pieces with these English lyrics, producing Photos of Ghosts in 1973. It’s a brilliant album, from opener “River of Life,” to closer and continuing live favorite “Promenade the Puzzle.” A combination of well chosen layers of grand piano, organ, Mellotron and Moog synthesizer, classical acoustic and electric guitar, colorful often pastoral flute and violin, all backed by powerful yet nuanced percussion renders this album a masterpiece. One track “Il Banchetto” is unchanged from its original version, presented with Italian lyrics and liner notes that explain the meaning of its beautifully sung passages. On the strength of that track alone, this writer collected the original records; a lead anyone interested in the band should follow. PFM went on to record a third Italian language record L’isola di niente in 1974, directly shipping an English language counterpart The World Became the World the same year.

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The band toured the United States for the first time in 1974, opening for several established acts such as Aerosmith and Peter Frampton. They appeared for an amazing six nights July 16-21 at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Los Angeles, a venue that could barely contain the talent on display. PFM recorded their first live album, the aptly titled Cook on this tour, which was released as a severely truncated single LP in order to introduce the band to a wider audience. This live album was more recently released as a highly recommended expanded three CD set containing the entire performance culled from the PFM_CookCover_72dpisame shows. The sets were a showcase for the band’s lightening fast delivery of tremendously complex progressive rock music, from the very Italian sounds of “Four Holes in the Ground” to the blues rocker “Alta Loma Nine ‘Til Five” featuring an impressive guitar solo from Mussida. Fans of the band who were privileged to catch any of these shows without exception recall being shocked and amazed at these fantastic concerts, often reporting that the band “stole the show” from the intended headliners.

After this tour, PFM recruited an additional lead singer Bernardo Lanzetti who took most of the lead vocals on PFM’s last two English language releases Chocolate Kings (1975) and the jazz-fusion driven Jet Lag, recorded in Los Angeles and released in 1977. Lanzetti’s powerful voice fronted a more aggressive sound on these albums, each of which contain an extended central piece, “Out of the Roundabout” on Chocolate Kings, and the title track from Jet Lag, the last record to be released on an American label. These are excellent examples of the progressive rock form, featuring more of PFM’s signature allegro jams and frantic, driven performances. In particular, an increased use of fretless bass from Djivas paired with fusionesque Rhodes piano leads from Premoli elevate Jet Lag to the top tier of the band’s many albums. Though members have come and gone since the end of the 70s, PFM has continued to record and release new material every decade since their inception, each work continuing to demonstrate the enduring talent of these fine musicians.

Many fans like this author discovered PFM a bit too late to see any of their shows outside Italy have since been able to see the band in various reformations at progressive rock festivals and short tours. It’s worth noting that while film is scarce, audio recordings are plentiful, from the most important, now expanded official release Cook, to live CDs termed “official bootlegs” which capture a series of tours since PFM’s inception, volumes numbered under the heading PFM – 10 Anni Live. Arguably given the fact that Cook captures the band in its original lineup, the most important of these is Volume 4: 1977-1978, the Jet Lag Tour, which captures a blistering live performance during Lanzetti’s tenure with the band, and includes tracks from Passpartu, which marked the end of his involvement with PFM.

ON FILM

PFM_PaperCharmsBoxSet_72dpiPaper Charms: Complete BBC Recordings 1974-1976 (2015), Cherry Red Records, 25 min, 1.5:1

As mentioned, film of PFM is hard to find, and this author has not been able to locate a complete performance by the band during their 1970s heyday on video. However black-and-white film of the band performing songs from their first album on Italian television RAI can be found on Progressive Rock in Italy, and on streaming services, though this is difficult to find on DVD. Fortunately, the best of their television performances, taken from the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test in the mid 70s are available on the recent compilation available at Cherry Red Records, Paper Charms: Complete BBC Recordings 1974-1976. These films, recorded in 1.5:1 aspect ratio and somehow retaining color and clarity after all these years, are a revelation, a rare chance to see the band in their prime, in studio and stage performances of “Four Holes in the Ground”, “Celebration”, “Mr. Nine ‘Till Five” with the 1974-75 lineup and the track “Chocolate Kings” in 1976 which showcases singer Lanzetti’s contribution. The camera moves smoothly about the band members, providing revealing close-ups of keys, toms, winds and frets, uninterrupted by distracting transitions or other flourishes. This is how the band is best presented, simply performing their most enduring songs with lightening fast precision and aplomb.

PFM_FilmStripFilm Strip: (top to bottom) (a) Close-up of winds/violin player Pagani demonstrating rich, vibrant colors (b) Premoli with clear view of his work on keys (c) Mussida shown mid-distance provides a study of his soloing technique (d) Di Cioccio captured less frequently, as is the norm for drummers in early rock video (e) Lanzetti, in 76, part of the best preserved film segment from BBC’s OGWT

Emerson, Lake and Palmer Make Brain Salad Surgery

ELP_BSS_Cover_72dpiAnd did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green?

…croons Greg Lake, in powerful melodious voice, to begin the first track of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s most progressive, conceptual album, 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery. The opening track, a beloved and patriotic English anthem, sets the stage for what is to come; a series of intricate compositions and virtuosic performances from Lake (vocals, bass, guitars), Keith Emerson (keyboards, computer voice), and Carl Palmer (drums & percussion synthesizers). The album represented a high water mark for the band, both in the studio and for their stunning live performances, which culminated in America when the group played to over 200,000 fans at “California Jam Festival” in 1974. Nearly forty-five minutes of this show was captured on film, later released on DVD as part of the Beyond the Beginning collection. In addition, fans were treated to a triple album capturing the band at their peak.

ELP_EmersonSolo_72dpiI never was able to catch ELP in concert, and have always been more of a Rick Wakeman fanatic rather than a Keith Emerson fan. Keith’s keyboard attack always seemed a bit too violent and prolonged for my ears, whereas I felt that Rick focused more on melody and song craft. Nonetheless, I never thought the critics were fair to this band. After hailing them as the “next super group” they were savaged by accusations of being pretentious and bombastic. Instead I felt that the hints of these qualities made sense as part of the package, and that it was more talent, confidence and showmanship that the critics unfairly assailed. I did get the chance to see Carl astound us all when playing with Asia, and always loved Greg’s rich baritone on anything graced with his tones. And, as the years passed, I’ve warmed to the ELP sound, finally catching them live on their Black Moon tour. It’s clear no matter one’s musical palette, that these are three of the most talented musicians of our time. Brain Salad Surgery is to this listener their undeniable masterpiece.

CONCEPT & MUSIC

ELP_ComputerMalfunction_72dpiThe centerpiece of Brain Salad Surgery is “Karn Evil 9”, a suite presented over 30 minutes in three parts, or “impressions.” The themes in the “Karn Evil 9” suite, a “carnival of words and music” came in parts, moving from a disaffected generation witnessing the evils of the world, culminating in mankind facing a war-ravaged world taken over by computers. King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield and Lake collaborated on the lyrics during intense writing sessions, weaving together the disparate movements. In the early sixties Sinfield had worked on a mainframe computer that he claimed could actually play the song “Daisy, Daisy” a tune which listeners may also recall from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, itself a study of the man-machine battle. On a recent CD reissue, Lake explains, “Some of the lyrics would be surreal, then the next day we would feel that something needed to be said, for instance like the way the media make money from photographing people suffering. The whole concept of computers dominating peoples lives, and the one line Load your program, I am yourself – they were rather prophetic words… I really do question sometimes how much good it’s doing us, all this bloody technology! That’s what Brain Salad Surgery was to some extent about.” Taken as a suite, the themes of the composition leave the listener to interpret the whole, a hallmark of the best conceptual rock in the 1970’s.

To round out the album, four initial tracks display the band’s prowess in every possible manner. Already known for interpreting classical and contemporary works by other composers, the band began the record with “Jerusalem,” by Sir Hubert Parry, with words from the poem by William Blake, and follow-up “Toccata,” a complex instrumental piece based on the 4th movement of Alberto Ginastera’s “1st Piano Concerto.” This cut includes a credit to Carl Palmer for his synthesized percussion movement; a startling aggressive workout on his new electronic kit. Lake’s ballad “Still… You Turn Me On” is the primary “radio-friendly” track on the album, a serene and catchy love song. The comedic music hall number “Benny The Bouncer” gives Lake a chance to work out raspy vocals in a Cockney accent, with boogie-woogie piano by Emerson and Palmer keeping pace on small kit. The centerpiece, “Karn Evil 9,” began on side one of the original LP and continued by filling all of side 2.

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For the album cover, the band went with an evocative painting by artist H.R. Giger, whose work later in the decade would be used in the Alien movies. Emerson had been introduced to Giger while on tour in Switzerland. The band went to his studio to peruse his work, and he produced the cover henceforth. The painting, featuring industrial machinery housing an embedded human skull, presents a portal through which an image based on a portrait of Giger’s wife’s is partly visible. Opening the album’s gatefold cover revealed the complete picture. This inventive design perfectly suited the album and it’s themes. Famously, the record company forced the band to tone down the painting’s sexual content, replacing an image of a penis with a slightly vague shaft of light.

Reflecting on the album, band members look back fondly. “I think what people really found appealing about the band was more it’s fantasy side,” says Lake, “and that side of ELP was more predominant on the earlier albums.” “We were doing things to push the boundaries of experimentation and recording forward,” adds Palmer.

LIVE PERFORMANCE

ELP_WelcomeBack_CD_Cover_72dpiBrain Salad Surgery came during the time when there were major innovations in technology and recording process. The band deployed these on their prior album Tarkus, but found the songs difficult to recreate in their live shows. For the new album, they ensured all tracks could be played live by the band before going into the studio. The resulting concerts benefited tremendously from this foresight, as the band was able to deliver precise yet energetic renditions of each track with flights of improvisation as well.

ELP_EmersonSpin_72dpiThe tour started in America in late 1973, and represented the most complex stage, sound and lighting system of that time, including quadraphonic sound, and for some of the dates, a “flying piano” setup that allowed Emerson to appear to be playing a grand piano while spinning head over heels in 360 degree loops. Not to be outdone, Palmer’s massive drum riser weighed almost 1.5 tons, including a revolving platform, church bell and gongs. The 1974 three LP set, Welcome Back My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen was produced from the band’s February 1974 shows in Anaheim, California, and is one of the best selling triple-album sets of all time.

 

ELP_DVD_Cover_72dpiThe DVD Beyond The Beginning (2005) contains a documentary of ELP, but more importantly includes the best available concert film of the band at this pivotal time. The 44-minute picture was taken at their last stop on the American tour, headlining at California Jam, playing for over 200,000 people. The professional color film is a top quality production for its time, featuring lengthy close-ups of fingers, sticks and picks, capturing the virtuosity of each band member.

The set list begins with Palmer and his synthesized drums playing the solo in “Toccata” after which we are treated to two of Lake’s ballads, “Still… You Turn Me On” and “Lucky Man.” Emerson’s astounding “Piano Improvisations” follow and they are caught in detail, along with the first segment of “Take A Pebble”. The real treat follows, an almost note-perfect live rendition of the 1st and 3rd impressions of the “Karn Evil 9” suite which includes a lengthy Palmer drum solo, highlighting his rotating drum riser, followed by Lake’s powerful vocals, Emerson’s polyphonic Moog leads, and the simulated destruction of the villainous computer. The film concludes with “Great Gates of Kiev” during which Emerson deploys the spinning piano stagecraft, before the coda and fireworks.

ELP_LakeClose_72dpiThough on the balance this film is priceless, there remain a few quibbles. Most importantly, this DVD hosts an incomplete edit of the concert, as originally edited before being broadcast on ABC television. Opening songs “Hoedown” and “Jerusalem” are cut as is “Tarkus” which followed “Toccata” in the set list, and “Karn Evil 9″ 1st impression part 1, and all of the 2nd impression. Additionally there are a few instances where songs are truncated, such as “Toccata” and “Take A Pebble.” As to the camerawork, the only inadequate scenes are distant shots meant to capture the full band across the large stage, as these are grainy and unfocused. Otherwise, the edits are well timed and camera angles are expertly planned, yielding brilliant shots of each musician in action. As to the performance, Emerson and Lake visibly and rather annoyingly chew gum throughout the evening, but otherwise these artists play with precision, enthusiasm, and aplomb. Lake for one claimed in a recent interview that those shows were never be surpassed for their emotional intensity and capacity to impact the audience, and this reviewer agrees. For those who missed it, this film remains the best way to capture this most impressive moment in in ELP’s history.

 

 

Mountains Come Out of the Sky: Reviewed

Book Review: Mountains Come Out of the Sky, The Illustrated History of Prog Rock, by Will Romano
Backbeat Books, Hal Leonard Corporation, Milwaukee © 2010 by Will Romano
ISBN 978-0-87930-991-6

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As I prepare a manuscript for my own book for next year, I’ve been doing some research on other works that cover progressive, classic and space rock music genres. There is quite a mix out there as anyone interested in music journalism knows. Most of the books I’ve found are about specific bands, such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Led Zeppelin and many others. My favorite of these, I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo, long time Genesis biographer was covered in an earlier article. I’ve found a few books that focus on very specific works by those bands, the most excellent of which is Tim Smolko’s Jethro Tull’s Thick and a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs. Some are by photographers or artists and the best of these is Roger & Martyn Dean’s Magnetic Storm which chronicles Roger’s art and architectural design as well as Martyn’s work creating the fantastic staging Yes deployed during their early years.

Many rock music books make an attempt to cover the entire genre or specifically the progressive rock music genre and these books can be the most difficult to assemble. There is the encyclopedic The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music by Bradley Smith, Progressive Rock Reconsidered by Kevin Holm-Hudson and one that ties prog to the counterculture of the times called Rocking The Classics by Edward Mecan, among others. Often these books end up being for reference only (Billboard Guide) or a bit more academic and stuffy. The best of the books I’ve found that delve into the progressive rock genre and its practitioners is Will Romano’s Mountains Come Out of the Sky.

Spectacular Book Design
Spectacular Book Design

Romano’s book, reportedly the result of three years of effort, is an excellent, thoroughly researched document that includes interviews with the artists, essays, and vibrant color photos that include album covers, portraits of the artists and live shots. After a nice forward by Bill Bruford, the book begins with the ever-important question “What is Prog?” This is answered quite well in a short essay that includes Romano’s own position on the subject, peppered with quotes from Greg Lake (ELP), Ian McDonald & John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes) and others who present a clear and simple definition. The script moves directly into a study of prog’s early history, and first practitioners including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and Frank Zappa while charting the impact of the Mellotron and Moog keyboards on the sound of the emerging bands in the scene.

The story continues with chapters devoted to the six largest acts in the genre, starting with Pink Floyd, and continuing with King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, and Jethro Tull. Each group’s chapter is well researched and composed, including many direct quotes from Romano’s own interviews with band members, producers, engineers, and peers. The material is factual and engaging, detailing the origins of the bands, descriptions of the music and observations as to where it fits in history from today’s perspective. Follow-up chapters cover some other major bands, primarily from the 1970’s. These include groups that were part of the Canterbury scene, some who delivered a sort of Prog Folk sound, bands hailing from American, Italy and Germany, and an additional set of key acts including Camel, Gentle Giant, Marillion. Some of these chapters are lighter on content, particularly when the bands hail from outside the U.K. But Romano makes a defensible case that the birthplace and origin of progressive rock is Britain, and this focus keeps the book from becoming yet another encyclopedic reference, instead allowing him to tell the complete story of the most important acts without becoming ponderous.

Well-read prog fanatics will find bits of new information here, but more importantly, will see that the content on each band details what one must know in order to understand the act and their legacy. I have already used the book to introduce a band to someone who is not so versed, and they attain a quick understanding of the group, it’s key albums, and iconography. In this way the content will please existing and new fans alike. The book includes a bibliography and a discography that includes almost 300 titles, almost all of which I would concur belong in every collector’s library.

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Key Albums

Special mention must be made that this volume is referred to as a “visual history” for good reason. The design by Damien Castaneda and color rendering by the printers is exceptional. There is a generous set of photos, including album cover art, band portraits and live shots. Many of these have not been seen before appearing here, and several are quite rare. These have been edited so that the book is colorful and vibrant. An occasional ribbon at the footing allows for key albums to be nicely referenced, with their cover and year of release, and there is a clever design technique overlaying bits of album cover art and labels as portals into the band’s iconography. It’s almost a coffee table book format, and worthy of its sturdy construction.

In summary this is an excellent entry in progressive rock literature. Romano makes the subject relatable, presenting the best quotes by the musicians and readable descriptions of what makes this music special, and why Britain must be considered the birthplace and primary region from which the form emerged and flourished. The choices as to who to include and who to leave for another tome are well made, so we end up with a fine set of bands and commentary. With that, and the excellent visual layout, it’s an instant favorite for this avid reader and collector.

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Mountains_ZappaBy the way, our own Gonzo Multimedia label carries a load of interesting books on the genre, most of which are more about placing music in the context of it’s times, with socio and political commentary. One that I plan to read soon is Frank Zappa et al – The Real Porn Wars (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15802/Frank_Zappa_et_al-The_Real_Porn_Wars.html ) which covers the maestro’s fight against the puritanical “Parent’s Resource Center” in the 1980’s here in the states. One that is more focused on exposing music that I was most surprised by is Neil & Tom Nixon’s – 500 Albums You Won’t Believe Until You Hear Them (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15804/Neil_&_Tom_Nixon-500_Albums_You_Won’t_Believe_Until_You_Hear_Them.html) . I thought I had a lot of rare music, but came across hundreds of peculiar and rare album recommendations! Check some of these out.

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