Show Review: Keith Emerson and Greg Lake at The Regency Ballroom, 4/26/10

by Gordon Elgart on April 27, 2010

The most photographed keyboard setup in the history of the world?

Before the show even started, and long after it ended, fans were gathered around the stage to take photographs of the famous synthesizer on stage at The Regency Ballroom on Monday night. This is the actual synthesizer that was used on “Lucky Man,” the classic track by Emerson Lake & Palmer that both kicked off their career and ended this concert. That prog nerds (like me; I was taking a photo, too) worship equipment is well known, but what about the people playing it? What about Emerson Lake & … well … nobody?

When a disembodied voice announced Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, the seated audience jumped to their feet for a huge ovation. I scanned the audience to see that the youngest person there was probably in their 30s. (Except for the screaming babies being held by their mothers.) There was no doubt about it: this was going to be a nostalgia trip. And sometimes that’s all anyone wants. For example, if you wanted to, you could have paid $250 for an autographed, limited edition reproduction of a poster from The Fillmore from the first night Emerson and Lake met. Emerson was with the Nice and Lake with King Crimson on a night they both opened for The Chambers Brothers. And yes, people at the show last night had been there more than 40 years ago, too, and made sure we knew about it.

As for the music, the set list focused on some deeper tracks, mainly ones that feature Emerson or Lake, ones that could be played without their drummer, Carl Palmer. I’ll say that he was definitely missed throughout the evening, whenever they would trigger the drum machine. (Emerson Lake & Roland?) This drum machine stuck out like a sore thumb, and every time it started up, I cringed a little bit. Equally cringeworthy was Emerson’s reliance on digital strings to add “texture” to his parts. His parts don’t any damned texture!

Before you get the idea that this was some sort of trainwreck, it was anything but. Emerson and Lake told stories about the writing of their songs, and played some tracks that they skipped when they had their ’90s reunion tours. Especially welcome were “Take a Pebble,” which led into a gleefully received full-length take on the classic “Tarkus,” and the bouncy “Bitches Crystal,” which it seems was nearly forgotten, noting the muted reaction of the fans.

The second half of the show was given over mainly to the always-and-still-amazing Keith Emerson, as he followed up the set opener “C’est La Vie” with a solo performance called “Prelude to a Hope” and then right into The Nice’s takes on Leonard Bernstein’s “Rondo” and Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”  Each of these was accompanied by an interesting story about both Brubeck (who wondered about the wisdom of transferring a 9/8 song into 4/4) and Bernstein (who was invited into their studio, heard the song “Pirates,” and his reaction was: “The singer’s not bad.”)

And y’know, that’s still true. Greg Lake has lost only about 2% of his vocal power, and his bass playing is still spot on. It’s a shame, though, because Bernstein was right about “Pirates.” While it’s a favorite of theirs, it’s a pretty silly song, and their catalog is full of stronger material that was skipped during the show. Where was “Karn Evil 9” or “Trilogy?”

One fun part of the show was a brief Q&A. They told the audience they could ask anything they wanted. So here’s what was asked:

  • “I’m your biggest fan in the Pacific Northwest, and I flew down here today, and you guys are amazing for having done this for so long, and can I come on stage and get my picture with you?” I paraphrased a bit. The crowd booed, the band said yes, then he went on stage. He gathered with them in front of Greg’s gear, and then he tried to get them to move to Keith’s gear. They got annoyed with him and said no, and the picture was snapped. Then he went to Keith’s gear while Keith purposefully ignored him, and snapped a picture of himself in front of the Moog. He was lustfully booed offstage.
  • “I was at The Fillmore that first night you met, and during King Crimson’s set there was some red strobe lights that seemed to bother Robert Fripp, and I’m wondering if that was on purpose.” Greg Lake said something about having disorienting light shows, and sometimes they worked on the band, too.
  • “Do you ever speak to David O’List? (guitarist from the Nice)” Emerson said no, he doesn’t.
  • “How long did it take you to write the lyrics to ‘Closer to Believing?'” Lake said that he and Pete Sinfeld spent three months getting the lyrics to have perfect rhyme. He seems very proud of the song, and he probably should be.

After “Pirates,” they came back on stage for the inevitable “Lucky Man” encore with the inevitable “Lucky Man” synth solo. I’d seen this solo jammed out before, but the drum machine ran out, so the solo just sort of ended there. It’s too bad, because Keith Emerson deserves the open space to simply go crazy. Tonight, he played his keyboard backwards, played a weird synthesizer stick with his butt, played with his forearm; he hit nearly all his tricks, save for the knives in the organ. (I really wanted the knives in the organ.) Overall, this was just a bit too rehearsed to be absolutely awesome, but as a nostalgia trip, it never failed to entertain.

Keith Emerson’s own set list from 4/26/10 in San Francisco:


Emerson Lake & Palmer have announced some reunion gigs later this year.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline Hernandez April 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm

10 songs with an intermission included….Ridiculous..


Pirate77 November 13, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Did you even go to the show? No… you did not.
I guess you’d hate Rachmaninoff. One symphony per concert, LOL.


Ben April 27, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I still remember that time we caught them in the ’90s back in MA. Was it Great Woods? Black Moon tour? Can’t remember who opened for them though.


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