ELP’s Someone Get Me a Ladder – a line borrowed from “Still…You Turn Me On” – tour shows were announced with “Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends…” before launching into “Hoedown” from the Trilogy album, and thus began a phrase that is inextricably part of the band’s history. In 1973, the success of Emerson, Lake & Palmer was staggering for a band, especially of the progressive variety. With the use of classical elements to build their songs, the trio that authored, adapted, and played the amazingly intricate musical structure that was their catalogue, were at the definite height of their fame. After the best-selling Brain Salad Surgery album, this expansive tour yielded what was once 3LPs and 6 sides to play in the lengthy title of Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Fortunately, you need only to change discs once to get the fullness of this album on CD but regardless, the music is deep.
Covering the previous 4 studio albums, the material on Welcome Back… spends plenty of time on each of the albums, especially Brain Salad Surgery with almost 36 minutes of “Karn Evil 9.” It also devotes over 27 minutes to the Tarkus album with all seven movements of “Tarkus.” ELP was one of few bands to get away with the length of a song with the broadest audience. “Take a Pebble” also included within itself, “Still…You Turn Me On” and “Lucky Man.”
In the liner note written exclusively for this Shout! Factory Emerson, Lake & Palmer Remasters series reissue, Steve Hochman states that “…the album was somewhat of a disappointment, simply because it was impossible to capture the experience of ELP live.” That statement is partially true. The band, at this point, had only to use their imagination and a stage enhancement was born. From Emerson’s elevated and twirling piano to the vast drum kits on risers of Carl Palmer, the band pushed their abilities to the limits. But listening to the album itself, even though audience participation was not a factor (other than changing sides of the LP), the album still entertained. For those that followed the band through their 4 previous albums, the press, and TV snippets, you allowed your own imagination to run wild while listening to the LPs and it worked. The big drag was having to change side 5 to side 6 in order to gain the fullness of “Karn Evil 9,” disruption no matter how you looked at it.
Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show that Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer is the definitive live album for the band at its best.
Shout Factory began an ambitious update of the relatively small ELP catalogue with the 2CD career retrospective of 28 classic, newly remastered ELP tracks from 10 albums, several of which were large in scope (the Works efforts), called The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Chronologically reissued, Shout Factory then began their ELP catalogue updates with the 1971 self-titled debut, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the band’s second album, Tarkus, also from 1971, on April 24. Those were followed with Trilogy, and Pictures at an Exhibition, both from 1972 and reissued on June 26 of 2007. The subject of this review, Welcome Back, My Friends to the Show That Never Ends…was officially released in 1974 and after Brain Salad Surgery.
These albums were remastered from original master tapes by Andy Pearce at Masterpiece London. I haven’t compared these to more recent remasters that are available from other markets however; I can tell you that they are much better than the aging original Atlantic CD releases, which sadly, were all that were in my possession. If there are better remasters out there, I’ll leave those to the more astute audiophiles to bring to attention (however, trusted readers have reported to me that these Pearce remasters are comparable to the best ELP remasters available). But for those that want a reasonably priced, easy to acquire, update of their older ELP catalogue discs, these do the job quite nicely. They are not expanded with bonus track inclusions but do have 8-page updated booklets with a few photos and artwork added along with a short set of notes from Steve Hochman. The series (Emerson, Lake & Palmer Remasters) sets are housed in jewel cases (I think I might have rather enjoyed the quality digipak packaging like those used for the Herb Alpert Signature Series collection). These reissues will nicely replace the aging originals in your collection until someone undertakes a Definitive Edition project for each of these albums, filled with bonus tracks and memorabilia. Watch for the next batch of ELP remasters – Brain Salad Surgery, which is still being worked on at this point – to arrive on October 2.