Keith Emerson - keyboards; Greg Lake - vocals, guitar, bass; Carl Palmer - drums, percussion
In terms of inspired creativity and groundbreaking technology, Emerson, Lake and Palmer will always be remembered for their first four studio albums, which far and away surpassed the commercial success of any other progressive rock act of the 1970s. One of the first so called supergroups of the decade, the band consisted of former Nice keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson, bassist and lead vocalist of the initial King Crimson lineup, Greg Lake, and Atomic Rooster's drummer extraordinaire, Carl Palmer. Collectively the trio created a monstrous high precision sound that incorporated keyboard and synthesizer technology that had never been road tested before.
By the time of their fourth studio album, Brain Salad Surgery, ELP had become one of biggest concert draws on the planet and were at the peak of their performing prowess. Hitting the road with one of the most technologically advanced stage shows ever attempted, they crisscrossed the globe, dazzling audiences with their formidable musicianship, live quadraphonic sound mixes, and staggering banks of equipment. One of the most legendary nights of the 1974 tour occurred in February 1974, when ELP took over the Anaheim Convention Center. The King Biscuit Flower Hour, which had launched operations the previous year, were on hand to capture the band on this night and highlights of the performance were broadcast nationwide while the tour was still in full flight. Performances from this night were also later released, first on the band's own live album, Welcome Back My Friends, as well as numerous KBFH releases decades later, which were often mistakenly attributed to being recorded in Tulsa later in the tour. Brain Salad Surgery would also bookend the peak years of ELP's most creative era. Although they would continue working together for decades to come, they would soon begin pursuing individual directions. A new album of studio material would not surface for another three years and ELP would never again be the cohesive team they were during this time.
Here we present that original KBFH broadcast, which kicked off with ELP's aggressive rock and roll interpretation of Aaron Copeland's "Hoedown," one of the standout tracks from their previous album Trilogy. This immediately demonstrates the group's monstrous sound and their ability to condense an orchestral arrangement down to its essential elements, while maintaining a sense of humor. This sense of humor and playfulness, most often displayed by Emerson, was a key ingredient in balancing their music and preventing it from becoming overly serious and pretentious, which often escaped their critics at the time. The recording continues with an intimate Greg Lake showcase featuring just his acoustic guitar and commanding vocals on "Still You Turn Me On" and an abbreviated take on "Lucky Man." Emerson is showcased next with an astounding piano improvisation that includes diverse excursions into Friedrich Gulda's "Fugue" and Joe Sullivan's "Little Rock Getaway." Stripped of the banks of synthesizers and processing toys in his keyboard arsenal, this solo piano workout is a most impressive example of Emerson's virtuosity.
This all leads up to the centerpiece of the Brain Salad Surgery album, the magnum opus, "Karn Evil 9." Well over half an hour in length and divided into three "Impressions" (actually four, as First Impression has two distinct movements), this is ELP's most challenging and adventurous moment and remains one of the key progressive-rock epics ever recorded. With lyrics by Pete Sinfield (sound and light man, as well as lyricist for early King Crimson), "Karn Evil 9" continues exploring the struggle between man and technology, a sci-fi theme they began exploring on their 1971 epic, "Tarkus." Here the technological fear is out of control computers, and the piece gives each of the band members ample opportunity to showcase their skills as well as their collective power.
The first section of the "1st Impression" creates the initial sense of tension, beginning with a bluesy organ motif from Emerson, before incorporating syncopated rhythms and violent and militaristic keyboard barrages to set a tone of technological Armageddon. This leads up to the second more familiar section where Greg Lake becomes a carnival (Karn Evil- get it?) barker shouting out "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends," before catapulting into an aural assault of incendiary keyboards, frenetic drumming, and Lake's commanding vocals beckoning the listener to see remnants of the pre-apocalyptic world ("a real blade of grass") and that nothing sacred remains ("pull Jesus from a hat, get into that, get into that").
The "2nd Impression" contains some of ELP's most daring and provocative musicianship, beginning as a jazzy piano-infused motif that is radically different than everything that preceded it. The first several minutes of this section are astounding at just how effective the trio could have been as a jazz-fusion band, before it dissolves into a brief introspective and sparse section that gradually becomes more complex. It eventually becomes a blazing piano jam, taken at a frantic tempo that proves just how gifted a pianist Emerson is, unadorned with electronic effects.
The third and final Impression begins melodically but soon becomes a musical blitzkrieg featuring layers of keyboards from Emerson, churning bass (and even some impressive electric guitar) from Lake, and intricate drumming and percussion work from Palmer, creating an apocalyptic sound of technology veering out of control. The combination of Sinfield's provocative lyrics and the bands powerful musicianship sonically represent a raging battle scene that one senses will be fought for the rest of eternity.
"Karn Evil 9" remains one of the most fully realized epics in all of progressive rock and this live recording is an astounding example of Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the most adventurous stage of their career and one of the most popular KBFH broadcasts ever.