The Velvet Coats of “Pirates” (Highland HL306/307)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – July 8th, 1977
Disc 1 (71:41): Introduction “Abaddon’s Bolero”, Hoedown, Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression Part 2), The Enemy God Danced With The Black Spirits, Takrus, Still…You Turn Me On, Lucky Man, Pictures At An Exhibition, Piano Concerto No. 1 1st Movement: Allegro Giojoso 3rd Movement: Toccata Con Fucco
Disc 2 (66:03): Closer To Believing, C’est La Vie, Knife Edge, Tank, Nutrocker, Pirates, Fanfare For The Common Man, Rondo, outroduction
The Velvet Coats Of “Pirates” is a 1999 release on the Highland label using the excellent quality audience recording for the second of three concerts at Madison Square Garden on the Works tour. The orchestra, who were with the band on the first week but were ditched because of expense were brought back for these three shows and the final concert in Montreal at the end of August. This three dimensional stereo recording captures the entire concert with small cuts after “Tarkus,” “Lucky Man,” “Closer To Believing,” “C’est La Vie,” Faint audience conversation is audible throughout the show (mostly the taper giving a commentary about the songs to his friend) and someone with an airhorn making a racket, giving it the atmosphere of a sporting event.
The new album Works had been criticized for being a fractured piece of work since it was really a collection of solo songs with only two group compositions. The setlist follows the a similar pattern with some of the older song played around solo spots for the three musicians. The orchestra begins the show with an arrangement of “Abaddon’s Bolero.” The band come onstage in the middle and help finish the song before kicking into “Hoedown,” “Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression)” and “The Enemy God” in quick order. The orchestra accompanies the band on the latter. To fit in all of the music the classic epics are shortened to a more reasonable length compared to previous tours. “Takrus,” which could reach almost forty minutes, is only fifteen minutes long with the “Aquatarkus” improvisations kept to a minimum.
Emerson announced a new version of “Still…You Turn Me On.” On older tours it was one of Lake’s solo acoustic showpieces, but this is scored for grand piano and orchestra as well. Lake sings “Lucky Man” all alone. In the middle someone throws a firecracker prompting Lake to stop and say, “you know that is very dangerous. We don’t to have to stop the concert for just one cat.” He picks up the song where he left off but the firecrackers are an issue in this show as they were for Pink Floyd, who played the Garden the previous week and for Led Zeppelin, who were there three weeks before. “Pictures At An Exhibition” has an orchestral arrangement that really expands the musical depth of the piece. The string section in particular add gorgeous melodies to the “Great Gates Of Kiev” section. Without the insane moog explorations the piece clocks in at fifteen minutes.
Lake and Palmer leave the stage for Keith Emerson to play his majestic “Piano Concerto” with orchestral accompaniment. The first movement “Allegro Giojoso” lasts for seven minutes and is dominated by the contrast between a somber woodwind motif and the more jocular grand piano melodies. The third movement (augmented by a vendor shouting “pretzels!”) occupies the rest of the time and much more ambitious with emphasis upon the trumpets and English horns before the piano comes in with a mighty flourish. The audience give Emerson a loud ovation afterwards!
Greg Lake has another two song set following with the orchestra playing two new songs, “Closer To Believing” and “C’est La Vie.” Emerson joins in on accordion for the latter to add the French musette flavor to the arrangement. “Knife Edge” from the first album is played but really lacks energy and sounds out of place. Palmer is given his second number of the night with the drum solo in “Tank.” The orchestra play an exciting melody with emphasis on trumpet, strings, and an oboe solo before the drum solo.
“Nutrocker” is played by EL&P alone like in the old days and is a reminder of the fun that can be heard at a concert. Played at a quick pace with references to “Jeremy Bender” and “The Sheriff” thrown in, they race through the song with such joy and energy. They stop in the middle and Emerson asks the audience, “did you like that?? Did you really really like that??” before playing the song again. The show closes with the full orchestral version of their great latter day epic “Pirates” lasting a full twelve minutes. The encore starts with the nine minute “Fanfare For The Common Man” with full orchestra which segues into “Rondo” played in furious 1972 style by the band alone for seven before ending again with “Fanfare.” Except for the Connecticut soundboards, this is the only complete Works show available on silver disc and because of the sound quality, performance and overall atmosphere of the recording one of the best available. The Velvet Coats Of “Pirates” remains of the best Highland releases and anyone with even a passing interest in ELP must have this in the collection.