ELP 1997 European Tour Report

by Akiko Hada, Yoko Fukuma and Mami Noguchi

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Reunion time - we had met and got to know each other in October 1996, during the ELP tour of Japan. Eight months later we are meeting up on the other side of the globe, for yet another ELP tour...

Poster for the Prague concert
© Yoko Fukuma

23 June, Prague:
We arrive at the venue, the Palace of Culture, around 5PM. As the name suggests, it's a large communist building housing a congress centre, various offices and showrooms, drab-looking cafes, and so on. We can hear a faint sound of what could be ELP soundchecking coming from somewhere in the building, and we spend a long time wandering up and down the complex, trying to find the hall/stage area, getting totally lost in the maze of corridors, staircases and escalators. We spot a few other groups of fans doing the same, none of them with any more luck than we have. As the sound we hear becomes nearer and more recognisable - yes, it's "Touch & Go" - our excitement mounts up, but we still have no idea exactly where the hall is. We finally come to what looks like an empty lobby and decide it's the nearest we can get to the stage, and stand there listening in (or rather: straining our ears to make out which piece they're just playing, and chatting when the music stops.) Oh, is that...could it be?? Yes, yes, it's "Karn Evil #9 1st Impression Part 2" - not the "welcome back my friends" bit they opened their 1992 & 1996 sets with, but the organ solo section following that! We jump up and down with joy, until Mami points out that we shouldn't get too excited about it, as the group often try things out during the soundcheck which they don't play in the actual set. Well, we suppose so...
When the soundcheck seems to be over, we go outside again. There are a lot more people waiting outside, which is encouraging. As with all the other dates on the European leg of this tour, the Prague show was confirmed very late, and posters went up only a few weeks before the event. And there are so many big-name international groups playing in Prague in June, that a local newspaper printed an article earlier on in the month pointing out this absurd situation: how are the Czech people supposed to be able to afford to go and see so many concerts in such a short space of time? (Tickets for the ELP concert cost around £20 each, which is a lot in local terms.) In fact Alice Cooper is playing in town on the same night as ELP, splitting the audience even further. Greg Lake tells us afterwards that ELP had sold half of the (1,500?) seats in advance, Alice Cooper a third of the seats in a larger venue. As it turns out, however, many more people have turned up tonight and the Congress Centre is almost full by the time the concert begins.

Just before the show, we find Pär Lindh in the lobby and introduce ourselves. He and the president of the Scandinavian ELP Fan Club, Tor Ansgar Bakken, drove all the way down to Prague!

The concert begins as announced, at 8PM, with no support act. Greg is wearing a black & white "Hawaiian" shirt and black trousers, Carl in his dark red waistcoat (to remove during his drum solo), Keith has his pinstripe two-piece on, with no shirt under the waistcoat. The set begins, as with last year, with a voice announcing "Welcome back my friends, to the show never that ends..." as the group come onstage, and they go straight into "Karn Evil #9, 1st Impression Part 2". The house system is terrible - some of the instruments are distorted and the rest is not clear at all. Still, we are thrilled to hear "Karn Evil #9" anyway - yes, they do play it in full! - even though we feel Keith's keyboards are not mixed loud enough during the instrumental section, where he plays both the organ and guitar parts on his QS-8 and Goff/Hammond respectively. The beginning of the "solo" section is pitch bent using the modulation wheel on the QS-8, and as we are sitting in the 5th row on Carl's side and can't see Keith's hands very well, it sounds as if the house electricity is playing tricks on them! We are relieved to find out at later concerts that this has been intended and not due to Czech power brown-outs. It is also quite obvious that the group are having problems with their monitors - the usual, perfect co-ordination and harmony between the three of them is lacking, Keith in particular tending to sound rushed. (We are later questioned by Keith and Carl: "tell us honestly - were we loud enough?" "Er...not quite." "Ah!" "But the sound was already distorted, so you couldn't have gone much louder..." "Was it distorted?" At which point, they go off to discuss the matter between themselves, so we are not sure what verdict they have reached. But it sounds as though they used the old house PA which was not quite up to scratch...and the band obviously couldn't hear what was going out, due to monitoring problems, and were suspicious of the overall sound quality.)

The audience reaction is positive and enthusiastic. The age group of the audience is as one would expect in any other parts of Europe - mostly people in their 40's, men and women, with some younger fans (mostly male) scattered around.

Greg Lake's voice is as clear as it was on last year's tour: that is to say, 100 times better than on the Black Moon tour. Keith's set-up is similar to what he had on the '96 tour: General Music GEM2 MIDI grand piano (88 keys) with Alesis QS-8 stacked on top; on the other side is his Goff Hammond and Korg Trinity above it. But this time round, he's taken the Moog back on the road, not just the ribbon controller as he did last year. Admittedly, it's a smaller stack of Moog modulars than that he used on the '92 Black Moon tour. The audience is thrilled to see it there on stage, nevertheless.

The set list is also similar to that of last year's Japanese tour, with a few changes:

  1. Karn Evil #9, 1st Impression Part 2 (in whole) - Keith plays the guitar parts on his synth
  2. Tiger in the Spotlight
  3. Hoedown - including a short solo on the Moog, before Keith walks around with the ribbon controller (and the usual rubbing it against his buttocks, etc.)
  4. Touch & Go
  5. From the Beginning
  6. Knife Edge
  7. Bitches Crystal - so great to hear this live again, it's an absolute classic!
  8. Creole Dance (KE solo)
  9. Honky Tonk Train Blues (KE solo) - Greg & Carl join in halfway through, brightening up the piece and making it so danceable!
  10. Take a Pebble - including a wonderfully fast, jazzy improvisation in the middle
  11. Lucky Man - with the same synth intro as they incorporated on last tour, and Keith playing the bass line on his keyboard throughout.
  12. Tarkus - from "Eruption", all the way up to and including "Mass" this time, then straight into...
  13. Pictures - "The Hut of Baba Yaga" & "The Great Gates of Kiev"


  14. Fanfare / Rondo including 5 stunning minutes of Carl Palmer drum solo. - Keith interjects a short Moog solo in "Fanfare", with his back to the audience; in "Rondo", just before the drum solo, he incorporates phrases from "Flight of the Bumble Bee", "Carmina Burana" and Bart÷k's "Out of Doors". And later, when he leaves the L-100 whining on its own in the middle of the stage and rushes back to his QS-8 to play a few phrases on it, before returning to the L-100 for the upside-down "Toccata & Fugue" - he lets off a series of sequenced, "spacy" notes from the Moog, while playing the synth chords.

The spectacle lasts a little over 90 minutes including the encore, which is not much longer than the set they played in Japan last year. However, we find the whole show somehow more powerful than the concerts in Japan - perhaps most strongly felt in Carl's performance, confirming, once more, how esssential his drive is in the overall make-up of ELP.

When the band go off stage after the encore, the s.o. audience clap and cheer and shout for more, for although Nick Sizer, the drums & guitar technician, has started to take the drum kit apart, Will Alexander hasn't come to disconnect the keyboards and we can see him just standing by the stage, looking as if he's awaiting further instructions. After we all clap for 15-20 minutes and our hands begin to hurt, Will finally comes onto the stage and starts pulling the leads out from the back of the keyboards - a sign for everyone to give up and go home.

After the concert, Keith manages to squeeze in a very quick sightseeing tour of the town, which he last visited in 1968 with the Nice, one of the very first Western groups to play here. He tells us afterwards that he hardly recognised the Wenceslas Square, in 1968 filled with protesting students and Soviet tanks trying to disperse them, and now full of tourists and brightly lit cafes. How times change.

This is the photo that accompanied the concert review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung a few days later. You can see us behind Keith...
© Roman Job

June 24, Munich:
ELP set off on their tour bus early morning, we catch a midday flight to grey and wet Munich. Luckily the rain stops by the time we make our way to the Tollwood, on the edge of the Olympic Park. It's a large tent, holding around 1,500, with many stalls around it selling bric-a-brac, snacks and - of course - local beer. As we arrive around 5PM, the main entrance to the tent is still open and we and a few other fans walk in and sit down to watch ELP go through their soundcheck. We can tell that the sound quality is a vast improvement on yesterday's, even though we get to hear little of the actual music played - a lot of the time they are having discussions with the TV crew from the local station, Bayerischer Rundfunk, who are sponsoring and filming the Tollwood Festival, a whole season of music and theatre events celebrating the venue's 10-year anniversary, of which tonight's ELP concert is part. We get kicked out after 10 minutes and have to stand outside in the cold. By the time they let us in at 7PM, there is a long, long queue, and as the entrance opens, the diehard fans all dash to the front of the stage, while others take seats at the back of the tent.

The concert begins, on time again, at 7:30PM with the 5-piece Munich group Seiges Even, who are to open all the German non festival dates on this tour with a 35-minute set. Theirs is a kind of progressive hard rock along the lines of Rush and Yes, featuring a virtuoso guitarist and a solid rhythm section. Unfortunately everyone in the audience is too anxious to see ELP come onstage to really listen and appreciate Sieges Even's highly complex pieces or their sheer technical skills. Which is a shame, but we suppose it's a test that all new groups have to go through...

When Sieges Even is through with their set, it doesn't take long for the crew to get the stage ready for ELP, and they are on before 8:30PM. The keyboard still sounds too quiet on "Karn Evil", but other than that, the sound quality is good. There are 5 TV cameras filming the concert, and as one of the camera operators, who is inside the barrier at the front of the stage, moves in to catch Keith from the front angle during one of his solos, he blocks the view of several fans at the front, causing a lot of angry protest. Otherwise the atmosphere is a very happy one throughout the evening. Keith is full of facial expressions and gestures for the cameras, humming and singing to himself while playing "Honky Tonk Train Blues" or, while walking around the stage with his ribbon controller, sticking it up between Greg's legs from behind, for example (Greg doesn't appear to mind this so much, though you never know!), putting his comical side on full show. The audience, in responce to the great spectacle unravelling before their eyes, answers with an applause for each piece, from the beginning to the end. And, of course, they sing along to "Lucky Man", which was ELP's biggest hit in Germany.

A still from the concert broadcast on BR3. There we are again!
© Bayerischer Rundfunk

As the band retires from the stage, the call for them to return for an encore is deafening, and after a few minutes they do come back onstage. The "silliness" section of "Rondo" gets extra silly tonight, with Keith making faces and nodding to the audience while his Hammond L-100 cries and wails and makes all other sorts of noises. On the footage which Bayerischer Rundfunk have broadcast, you can see that Greg is also making a funny face in reply, and of course Carl does his little "belly dance" - how anyone can do that while keeping the rhythm is hard for laypeople like us to comprehend. Then follows his energetic and flamboyant drum solo: a showman in his own right, he sure knows how to work up the audience!

Keith's stabbing of the organ, however, meets with a fairly cool reaction from the audience: most of them just stand there and watch the action in a rather detached manner, some get their cameras out and take a couple of shots. There is a big cheer again, though, when Keith turns the L-100 upside down and starts to play "Toccata and Fugue" from underneath it. And this is to be the pattern at all the other concerts we attend.

25 June:
A day off for us all. We get a chance to have a chat with Carl before leaving for Luxembourg, while he and Greg wait for Keith to finish his telephone interview with the South American Keyboard magazine. Carl is surprised to hear that the "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" video had been released on laser disc in Japan long before the video came out in Europe, especially as he is aware of the problem with the sound-to-picture sync that had delayed the European release. He asks us how much it costs to buy, how bad the sync is on the disc, etc. etc. and seems very concerned about the whole matter, saying he'll discuss it with Stewart Young, who will be flying in to Amsterdam when ELP play there.

Go to Part 2 (54K including 4 images)

©1997 A. Hada / Y. Fukuma / M. Noguchi