An intriguing (though, unfortunately, only partial) collaboration, The Boys Club, Live From California: The Complete Concert has certainly taken a circuitous route — having long appeared as a bootleg, then belatedly as an eight-song album in America and as a 10-track official release in the UK. Finally, a complete new two-disc set — due September 9, 2013, via Varese Sarabande Records — collects all of the previously issued items as well as four unheard tracks.
Still, it’s a bit of a misnomer. The genesis of this project was actually a trio of concerts billed as Marc Bonilla and Friends, which only included guest appearances by Hughes and Emerson. (Bonilla would later collaborate extensively in an on-going relationship within the regular Emerson band.) Bonilla’s then-current band Dragonchair are featured throughout, meaning Hughes isn’t on bass and Emerson isn’t always featured on keyboards.
In fact, Hughes doesn’t finally make his belated vocal appearance until four tracks in — but a raw, personal version of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” makes it more than worth the wait. Hughes also takes over vocals for “Cover Me” (which was co-written by Bonilla) and “Middle of a Dream” — the headlining trio’s lone composing collaboration here — but really catches fire on a rollicking update of the Allman Brothers’ “Dreams.” Bonilla, meanwhile, steps to the fore for originals like “Afterburner” and “White Noise,” each of which are sturdy enough but inevitably suffer for having been surrounded by more mythically familiar moments.
There are, actually, many more in store here. Emerson and Hughes, of course, first shared a stage at the April 1974 Cal Jam rock fest, when Deep Purple and Emerson Lake and Palmer topped a bill at the Ontario Motor Speedway — and songs from that era ultimately give The Boys Club, Live From California: The Complete Concert its cache: The set is rounded out by energetic, somewhat tougher new versions of the ELP favorites “Hoedown,” “Nutrocker,” “Tarkus” and “Fanfare for the Common Man/Rondo.” The latter joins “Close To Home,” “Creole Dance” and “Honky Tonk Train Blues” as previously unreleased tracks.