Pictures at an Exhibition - Emerson Lake & Palmer Review

The Movie
Progressive rock. Loved by many, hated by even more. The peak of the genre was the late sixties / early seventies when bands emerged for whom the three chord / three minute song was no longer good enough. They wrote and performed long and complex pieces with classical rather than pop structure. One of the key protagonists of this genre was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Keith Emerson had just left The Nice and was keen to find a better platform for his ever more complicated musical ambitions. Greg Lake featured on the first two King Crimson albums, but left to join Emerson. Originally, a possible completion to the line up was going to be Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but this did not happen so instead drummer Carl Palmer was recruited, fresh from playing with such bands as Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Pictures at an Exhibition was ELP's third album and was released as the live set here, so clearly was presented to the fans for the first time live (imagine trying to get away with that now, in these days of full corporate musical control). With their classical-style structure to their music, it was not surprising that ELP would adapt and borrow from original classical pieces, and here the entire album was based on the composition by Modest Mussorgsky, with additional material by Emerson and vocals written and sung by Greg Lake. Unsurprisingly, Emerson's keyboards dominate, featuring him playing the latest technology kit (which looks positively prehistoric now) along with a hand held keyboard which is probably one of the most phallic musical instruments ever invented. For him, he's quite restrained here, as he may chuck his Hammond organ about the stage a bit, but he doesn't go full tilt into attacking it with daggers, as he often did.

The musical style varies from intricate keyboard playing to more "rock" style pieces to gentler acoustic stuff (courtesy of Greg Lake). Some of the more experimental pieces here really require the listener to be on substances of some kind or another - which most of the audience probably were. This concert was recorded in 1970, which was before they really got into their on-stage excesses such as "flying" drum kits, vast keyboard setups and £10,000 oriental rugs on the stage floor.

If you are an ELP and /or progressive rock fan, then this disc will be an essential purchase, and it is worthy of your money. For all those who see prog rock as pretentious dinosaur rock, then regardless of its quality you will see it as only useful as a drinks coaster. Me, well I used to be a massive fan way back in my student days (so many years ago) so it was good to see a film of an album that I used to listen to so regularly.

The picture is 4x3 full screen format which can be classified under the "historical" format. That said, given the age of the material it's surprisingly clear and free of grain. There is a fair amount of colour bleed (mostly caused by Keith Emerson's lurid posing outfit) but this has come from the original master. For one track we are treated to a psychedelic "negative" effect with strange colours and shimmering effects (this is what passed as special effects back then). It all looks pretty much like it would have done when it was first seen.

The packaging claims that the sound has been digitally remastered in Dolby Surround and the end result isn't bad considering the source is now thirty years old. Keith Emerson's keyboards are frequently distorted to the limit making it difficult to judge the quality. A better place to check this is in Greg Lake's acoustic guitar piece - this sounds reasonably clear and crisp. There is an amount of background hiss and noise present throughout the entire video but this is unavoidable due to the age of the original material, and is largely unobtrusive.

The video section of this disc has no extras at all, it's just the 42 minute concert and that's your lot. The menu screen initially appears if info can be selected about the three band members. But no, the only options are "play movie" and a track / chapter selection screen. However, the main selling point here is that this is a "DVD-Plus" hybrid disc in that you can flip it over and on the other side is a CD of the same concert. It's a nice idea that hopefully will be used for many more titles.

The packaging of the disc is a little sloppy. The tracks are incorrectly listed on the booklet and box, and cannot be readily used as a chapter guide for the DVD as an "intro" chapter bumps everything up by one, and are indeed incorrect for the CD as well. The CD also does not contain the Nutrocker track present on the CD only release, and it doesn't seem to work properly with track databases like CDDB.

Final Thoughts
It's a nice idea to double up a DVD with a CD on the other side so you can listen to the music only part when you are away from your DVD player. The visual side of this disc is very "bare bones" with no extras whatsoever so a budget price is required to make this a worthwhile purchase. I don't really need to recommend this disc or not, as those who are fans of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and prog rock will make this an essential purchase, those who are not will steer well clear.

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