There are concessions that must be made on Keith Emerson and Greg Lake’s Live from Manticore Hall, starting with the absence of Carl Palmer — and then the occasional use of loops.
Too, the conversational aspect of the evening certainly works on its first listen, bringing us in with a confidential closeness. (Emerson, in an impish moment, recalls people asking questions about his pre-Emerson Lake and Palmer band: “The Nice what?”) But once that context is understood, these lengthy segments quickly become extraneous detours away from what is often a adventurously re-imagined journey through some peak moments for both.
From Emerson’s delicately probing piano asides on Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “From the Beginning,” to their brilliant interplay through the title track from Tarkus, to the thunderous Moog exploration from Emerson that ramps up into “Lucky Man,” Live at Manticore (Manticore-Cherry Red) more than makes up for its small stumbles.
There’s also plenty to intrigue for this duo’s longest-tenured fans with the addition of offbeat items like a brusque version of “Bitches Crystal” from ELP’s 1971 epic Tarkus, Lake’s King Crimson-era track “I Talk to the Wind,” and “Pirates” from 1977’s scattershot Works Volume 1 — though the latter is, alas, hampered by that previously mentioned drum track.
Palmer may well have been unavailable (this show was performed in advance of ELP’s last-so-far reunion at 2010’s High Voltage Festival) and Cozy Powell is of course long gone, but couldn’t they have found another so-named drummer for the night? Simon Phillips, maybe?
Kidding, but the point stands: Live from Manticore makes doing something like that — whatever their reservations about the most recent time it happened — an ever-more-intriguing option. There remains an obvious and special chemistry between these two, an ability to approach the past with perspective but also with gumption. Keith Emerson and Greg Lake clearly aren’t finished, even if Emerson Lake and Palmer seems to be.