As the demigods of the US postal service would have it (and OK, ordering from Amazon, Burning Shed and others had something to do with it), a lot of the CDs that have landed in my mailbox lately are live albums (or have a live element). “So whadid ya get?” Glad you asked . . .
District 97, Screenplay: the first live effort from the grassroots Chicago group intended for mainstream distribution, this double disc set is a comprehensive showcase for their gutsy blend of prog, metal and fusion. Disc 1 is a headlong romp through their fine album Screens, recorded onstage in the Netherlands; along with a new track, disc 2 serves up delectable live takes on their back catalog plus covers ranging from John Lennon (a snippet of “Jealous Guy”) through Bill Bruford (two tracks performed in my vicinity at Progtoberfest 2018) to King Crimson (with the late John Wetton on vocals). A perfect introduction for D97 newcomers, and a delightful celebration for fans already in the know. Available direct from the band.
The Keith Emerson Tribute Concert – Fanfare for the Uncommon Man: Five years in the making, this 2 DVD/2 CD combo pack, recorded at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater two months after Emerson’s devastating suicide, is the best tribute to him I could imagine. Post-ELP collaborator Marc Bonilla wrangles a impressive rotating cast of star players through a setlist that captures both Emo’s audacious, aggressive swagger and his sophisticated, heart-wrenching lyricism. Toto’s Steve Porcaro (organ on “The Barbarian”), Emerson protege Rachel Flowers (piano on a complete instrumental version of “The Endless Enigma”), CJ Vanston (piano on “Take A Pebble”) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess (multi-keys on a complete “Tarkus”) all shine in the keyboard chair; guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter turns Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” into a chicken-pickin’ delight. And when Eddie Jobson takes over Emerson’s iconic modular Moog synthesizer to play that solo on “Lucky Man,” the chills down my spine are unstoppable. Available direct from Cherry Red Records.
Peter Gabriel Plays Live: PG’s initial live album, restored to its original length and running order after far too many years in an edited version. Touring colleges and universities in the American Midwest to support the Security album, Gabriel and his backing players wove together high-contrast monochrome textures, brutally stark rhythms and chantlike volleys of vocals to conjure up an intense, ritualistic experience. Having seen this tour in the flesh, I can attest the album does a great job capturing the tour’s immersive, primitivistic grandeur — as well as including jauntier highlights from earlier albums and the goofy, otherwise unreleased “I Go Swimming.” Available direct from the artist or via Burning Shed.
Liquid Tension Experiment 3: Yeah, this one’s a stretch . . . but hey, the bonus disc of improvisations was recorded live in the studio! Initial opinion among fellow fans seems divided on the uncanny ability of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Tony Levin and Mike Portnoy to pick up almost exactly where they left off 22 years ago. Do you prefer your progressive music to explore farther-out frontiers each time, or to dig deeper in a previously fruitful vein? Me, I get into both approaches — and while LTE certainly plows similar instrumental prog-metal furrows as on their first two albums, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping, face-melting, heart-wrenching, smile-inducing gold in them there grooves! Available from Inside Out and Burning Shed. Oh, and I’m confident you’ve never heard a version of “Rhapsody in Blue” quite like this:
— Rick Krueger