Emerson, Lake & Palmer | Out Of This World: Live (1970-1997) – Live Release Review

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According to most online discographies — often plagued with inaccuracies — Emerson, Lake & Palmer have unveiled over 20 live releases. That includes four multi-disc sets of bootleg recordings. You’d think that would about cover it, but ever since the band’s catalog was licensed to BMG, there’s been a mad dash to push product to the masses, especially in tandem with the group’s 50th anniversary. Following 2017’s massive, all-encompassing Fanfare (1970 – 1997) boxset is Out Of This World: Live (1970-1997), which comprises five different live sets.

Fervent ELP fans will recognize that four of the five recordings have been previously released, making Phoenix 1997 the only fresh fish of the bunch. That, of course, doesn’t take away from the historical significance of the performances captured here. Isle Of Wight, Newport, 1970, marks the band’s first official live appearance — in front of a half-million people. Talk about tenuous. But the band pulled it off, premiering “the Barbarian” and “Take a Pebble” from their debut, self-titled album, along with their epic interpretation of Mussorgsky’s 1874 suite “Pictures At An Exhibition.” The credits imply that the audio was upgraded by mastering engineers Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham, but really the only thing new about this disc is the slipcase it comes in.

The same could be said about Live At California Jam, 1974. This show was ELP at their peak of their powers, complete with all three impressions of “Karn Evil 9” and the infamous spinning piano. Unfortunately, the source of the recording was an FM broadcast, a “joint stereo” affair replete with ear-splitting tintiness and barren of any bottom end. Neverthless, the importance of this gig, a bill that also included Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and the Eagles, cannot be discounted, and its inclusion in this set makes total sense.

The next two entries — Works Live, Stade Olympique De Montreal, 1977 and The Royal Albert Hall, London, 1992 — were previously released under different titles. The former features the band backed by a full orchestra, a costly issue that lead ELP’s late 70s breakup. The Albert Hall show documents ELP’s highly touted comeback tour, and features a fantastic rendition of “Pirates,” which for reasons unknown, wasn’t ever part of the Montreal disc, though it can be seen and heard on the Works Orchestral Tour DVD.

That leaves the pick of the litter — Phoenix 1997If you read the liner notes in the booklet that comes in the Out Of This World: Live (1970-1997) set, you’re lead to believe 1997 was ELP’s last tour of the United States (they actually played their final show in the States on August 31, 1998 in San Diego). At this time, it became obvious the trio were starting to run out gas, though there were still glimpses of kinetic chemistry and interplay amongst the three. Somehow, on September 23, 1997 at the 5,000-seat Union Hall in Phoenix, all the group’s strengths fell into place for the recording console. It may be the best representation of ELP’s live-performance acumen, warts and all, during this period.

Longtime followers may grouse at the fact that Phoenix 1997 is the only thing “new” about this set, while casual followers and the newly converted will gravitate toward its comprehensive reach. As a whole, Out Of This World: Live (1970-1997) does indeed paint a complete picture of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s touring years in a way most other live compilations have missed. With more ELP projects on the way, including a sci-fi movie based on “Karn Evil 9” and a virtual reunion with Carl Palmer playing alongside video of the late Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, one can take comfort in knowing the group’s legacy is assured and in good hands. Let’s just hope there’s something else in the vault all fans can look forward to.

~ Shawn Perry


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