3 | Rockin’ The Ritz: NYC 1988 – Live Release Review

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Man, did Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake make it hard for their fans during the 1980s. Breaking up my beloved Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the tail end of the 70s, the trio would not play all together throughout the MTV-fueled decade, but surely tease us in various almost-but-not-quite incarnations. Palmer and Lake would get together for a few Asia dates in Japan when John Wetton stepped away. Emerson, Lake and Cozy Powell would form a band, put out an album and then tour. Then, Emerson and Palmer joined up with bassist and vocalist Robert Berry to form 3, releasing To The Power Of Three during their short existenceLater on, a couple 3 live albums were also released Live Boston 88 and Rockin’ The Ritz: NYC 1988, which I happened to attend.

Now, Rockin’ The Ritz: NYC 1988 is coming to vinyl. In addition to To The Power Three songs, we get some ELP notables as well as covers. Opening with the infamous taped intro of “Fanfare For The Common Man,” the crowd pretty much goes nuts (yes, I can hear myself). This quicker-than-usual version sees Emerson availing himself of a few different keyboard sounds. “Desde La Vida,” from To the Power of Three, has Emerson’s original Moog kicking off a suite of songs with spacey hits. Palmer’s snare-to-tom attack in the middle with Emerson’s piano runs makes you really miss ELP.

Things slow down for “You Do, Or You Don’t,” a ballad showcasing Berry’s fine singing with  Jennifer Steele, the backing vocalist 3 employed for the show. Guitarist Paul Keller was also present to add some extra punch to the live sound. There is the kinetic piano work out of “Creole Dance,” which any ELP fan will have heard plenty before, and the set ends with some big and ballsy pairings. First, we get a medley of “America,” “Rondo,” “Carl Palmer Drum Solo,” and “Fugue In D Minor Bmv 565,” which is familiar territory for ELP heads. Palmer’s blistering snare part of his solo is as impressive as always, although I have to say his bass drum sounds a bit thin.

After some crowd “Hey Hey Heys,” 3 ends with “Eight Miles High,” a cover of the Byrds hit they feature on their studio album. A shaky “Peter Gunn” is clipped on at the end here and although Berry and Palmer have a fun call-and-response mid-way, the band loses its footing somewhat. The only other time I saw the 3 lineup was when they represented ELP at the  Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert, held at Madison Square Garden in 1988. Rockin’ The Ritz: NYC 1988 is a sweet reminder of not only a show I was at but of a blip of a moment in time when we almost had the Father, Son and Holy Greg together, which we wouldn’t enjoy in full until 1992.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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