The Original Bootleg Series
From The Manticore Vaults:
Vol. 1 & 2

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Bootleg recordings have been a thorn in the hip of the record industry for over 30 years. More recently, several artists have turned the tables on these underground foes by releasing so-called bootlegs of their own. Emerson, Lake and Palmer — who officially called in quits for a second time back in 1998 — are the latest to jump into the fray with an authentic series of bootlegs — both in quality and packaging -- comprised of eight shows. Spotlighting their peak years between 1971 and 1977, The Original Bootleg Series From The Manticore Vaults is a comprehensive, two-volume collection showcasing one of rock's most unique power trios. Much to the consternation of fans seeking optimum sound quality, a bulk of these recordings (like so many bootlegs) are from less than desirable sources. The point that many fans may miss, however, is that these clearly labeled bootlegs are more of a focus on the band's historical significance than their sheer sonic force.

Once you go in with a nose for the performances, it's easy to recognize how these sets accurately and vicariously chronicle the growth of ELP. Even within the span of the 11 months covered on Volume One, the group's progress is a marvel. Starting with their September 9, 1971 concert in Gaelic Park, New York, we get a rough-and-ready look at the initial etchings of the group's virtuosity. "Take A Pebble" and the monolithic "Tarkus," both of which appear through out both volumes, are like signposts that direct the trio's jazz-cum-progressive leanings. For hardcore fans, the real meat and potatoes of these CDs are those rarities not found on previous "live" releases. "Abaddon's Bolero" hauntingly marches through an April 21, 1972 performance from Louisville, Kentucky. "The Endless Enigma," the epic suite from Trilogy, is trotted out for three 1972 shows from Long Beach, California, Saratoga Springs, New York, and London, England. Even as it starts to take shape as a moderately live centerpiece, its short-term inclusion obviously set the stage for the more dangerous diversions of "Karn Evil 9."

Volume Two starts off in London from late '72 and ends five years later with a November 30, 1977 concert in New Haven, Connecticut. There are huge slices of Brain Salad Surgery, considered by many to symbolize the apex of the band's extravagance. In fact, every song from the album — including the irrepressible "Benny The Bouncer" — apparently managed to work its way onto the set list, as demonstrated on the two discs of a March 26, 1974 concert in Wichita, Kansas. The New Haven concert — the only soundboard recording of the lot — is from the ill-fated Works tour that nearly bankrupted the band. Impervious to defeat, ELP steps up to the plate with some standout versions of "Pirates" and "Fanfare For The Common Man." Elsewhere on both volumes, there are scads of Keith Emerson's fluent, aggressive turns at the piano, Greg Lake's emerald forest vocals on no less than five variations of "Lucky Man," and Carl Palmer's unparalleled time keeping. Moderate fans who demand the best in high fidelity will want to steer clear of these discs and pick up the official "live" recordings from the 90s. Hard core completists who could care less about the sound will do somersaults. For the rest of you, there is no happy medium.

~ Shawn Perry

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