Review Summary: Emerson, Lake & Palmer finally stops being overindulgent, and it pays off...
In the big four of progressive rock, Emerson, Lake & Palmer has always been the group to get the most flak for many things that includes being pretentious, wanky, overblown, or just outright boring. Progressive rock is full of these kinds of bands that are plagued with these issues, and on ELP’s latter albums, especially “Works Volume 1”; there is too much going on to take it all in. For a band like ELP, it takes several listens to get fully used to the keyboard-oriented sound, jams chock-full of solos of the moog or drum variety. On “Works Live” (or “In Concert”), the best of ELP is captured on tape on their ill-fated “Works Orchestra” tour of 1977. Featured on “Works Live” is a good amount of material from “Works Volume 1” and “Works Vol. 2”, along with some of the band’s popular live material (although “Tarkus” is unfortunately not present on the album), such as “Knife-Edge”, “Tank”, and the live favorite, “Pictures At An Exhibition”.
Unlike the sub-par “Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends…” which was plagued by little-to-no overdubs and the horrendous audio quality, “Works Live” makes amends with its excellent quality in terms of playing and audio in general. The pretentiousness is still present, but unlike on “Welcome Back, My Friends…” it is downplayed in favor of the band’s skill and expertise. Besides those pros, there are sure to be some unfortunate cons waiting in the wings, with ELP not presenting the best track listing for this album, with a large focus of the first part being Greg Lake’s acoustic pieces., not to mention most of the set list is material from the “Works” albums. Another issue is the lack of coherence, with some pieces not fitting in (“Maple Leaf Rag” following “Watching Over You” for example). Despite being minor issues, it is a reason to go with the original “In Concert”, which skips over some of the filler in favor of the best of the bunch.
Even with the few problems on “Works Live”, it presents itself as a showcase of the group, incorporating each member’s skill separated and the group working together as a group. (“Pictures At An Exhibition” and “Fanfare For The Common Man” come to mind). The orchestra isn’t that bad either, and makes for a great compliment to the band, and adds much needed atmosphere to the band’s performance. Whereas on “Welcome Back, My Friends…” ELP sounded tired, and didn’t exactly put up their best performance; “Works Live” is different, with each member giving it their all. Considering the tension in the band and the incoming dissolution of the group, they are playing at their best.