Progressive rock aficionados love a good debate. We’ll ramble on about most anything when it comes to the genre. A quick scan through the message board of any number of dedicated Prog/Rock Websites can attest to that. And since progressive rock is a catch all phrase for a multitude of sub-categories within the genre we seldom agree wholeheartedly on anything. But when a discussion naming The Big Five Pioneers of Progressive Rock comes up there does seem to be a consensus on at least four of the five artists … YES, Genesis, King Crimson, and Emerson Lake & Palmer. After those four it becomes a veritable free-for-all with names like Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Van Der Graaf Generator, Frank Zappa, Moody Blues, and a dozen others in the running.
Of the four uncontested groups, vocalist Greg Lake has the distinction of being a founding member of two of these pioneering progressive rock legends … “King Crimson” and “ ELP ”. Only drummer Bill Bruford can boast an association with more – as a full-time member of YES and King Crimson, and a brief appearance as the second drummer with “Genesis” during their “Trick Of The Tail” Tour. Greg Lake has been called The Voice Of A Generation, and over the years his boyish good looks and choir boy vocals have belted out the classic Crimson tunes “21st Century Schizoid Man”, “Court Of The Crimson King”, and “Epitaph”; and the signature ELP ballads “Lucky Man” and “From The Beginning” are timeless classics.
MVD Entertainment Group has released both a companion backstage DVD rehearsal session of the Greg Lake Band and a live CD of the concert at the Stevenage Concert Hall in Hertfordshire recorded in November of 2005. A few years ago I saw one of the final performances of ELP on DVD and his voice was a bit shaky at times. But after watching the DVD and listening to the concert all I can say is the guy seems to be rejuvenated! His voice is strong as ever; mellow and soothing – yet strong, gritty and powerful when the need arises.
There are current rumors abound that ELP may reform in 2008 … and if this is the case then Greg should WOW fans and HUSH the critics. But in the meantime the Greg Lake Band will more than satisfy the die-hard fans of early Crimson and ELP . He has assembled an incredible collection of talented musicians who tackle the material with gusto - breathing new life into the classic tunes.
I was most impressed with the set list of the concert, half expecting the songs to be an unplugged repertoire of Greg Lake’s ballads, but what I got was some real surprises like a spirited instrumental “Fanfare For The Common Man”, the complete “Pictures At An Exhibition”, and “Karn Evil 9 1st Impression – Part 2”. Pulling off ELP material without Keith Emerson behind the keyboards is no easy task, but Lake acquired keyboardist David Arch, a seasoned touring and recording veteran and soundtrack composer who has worked with such diverse artists as Elton John, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, Clay Aiken, Sheryl Crow, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, Phillip Glass, and pop classical violinist Vanessa Mae; as well as recent film soundtrack credits which include "Star Wars - The Revenge Of The Sith," "Notting Hill," "The Diary of Bridget Jones," "De-Lovely (The Cole Porter Story)," "Around the World In 80 Days," and all three Harry Potter feature films.
A second keyboardist Josh Grafton increases the wall of sound giving the performance an amazing studio quality in the live venue setting. Another real surprise was an extended acoustic guitar solo – not from Lake himself – but from his young 23 year old touring guitarist Florian Opahle – another incredible coup d'état for Lake. Before becoming a member of The Greg Lake Band, Opahle toured throughout Europe with Ian Anderson on his “Ian Anderson Plays Orchestral Jethro Tull Tour”. Even the bass player Trevor Barry has quite in impressive list of credentials as a sessions player, composer and record producer, working with the likes of Celine Dion, Phil Collins, The Hollies, Carole King, Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, and Robbie Williams. And he’s also composed music for movies and TV shows such as “Everybody Loves Raymond”, “60 Minutes” and “Jag”. And filling in the drum stool for someone like Carl Palmer is just as difficult as a replacement for Emerson on keys, so Lake brought in Brett Morgan who has performed with ex-Beatle George Harrison, Sting, Elton John, Cliff Richards, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Freddie Mercury and Joni Mitchell. Rounding out the band are female vocalists Jai Ramage and Bekki Carpenter.
The DVD “Greg Lake – Welcome Backstage” is a prelude to the concert performance as well as an introduction to Lake’s new group. There are excerpts of rehearsals - warts and all, interviews, backstage banter, as well as songs performed in their entirety, including a beautiful rendition of “I Believe In Father Christmas” which unfortunately isn’t included on the concert CD. The CD concert includes material from King Crimson, the classic ELP line-up, and even the Emerson Lake & Powell tune “Touch And Go”. “Farewell To Arms” is a truly stand-out track showcasing Lake’s amazing vocal talents – very moving!
Both the DVD and CD rate a Perfect 10.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on January 12th, 2007