Brian Davison - drums; Keith Emerson - keyboards,; Lee Jackson - bass, vocals
Ever wonder what a Hammond organ might sound like plugged into a pile of Marshall guitar amplifiers? Probably not, but Keith Emerson of The Nice did, and thus created a modern and efficient way to peel paint from walls while simultaneously terrorizing hippies. Ever the shrewd businessman, Bill Graham was no doubt aware of what a great deal he was getting when he booked the opening act/interior renovation trio.
The Nice were already superstars in their native England due almost entirely to their explosive live performances, as evidenced in this appearance opening for The Chambers Brothers and King Crimson at the Fillmore West in late 1969. You may hear some lingering shreds of the band's genesis as a R&B back-up band in the opening medley "CountryPie/Brandenburg Concerto No. 6," but any soul-roots quickly shrivel as the funky shuffle of the initial tune veers into the classical catastrophe of the latter. But just in case there was any confusion, bassist Lee Jackson's vocals prove once and for all that this is NOT an R&B outfit. No matter, though; the real star is Emerson, who leads his accompanists marauding through musical history, turning contemporary folk hits by Tim Hardin and Bob Dylan ("Hang on to a Dream" and "She Belongs to Me," respectively) on their ends, and rendering them unrecognizable amidst momentous Baroque crescendos and spiraling be-bop bravado. The excellent quality of this recording delivers a crisp and dynamic representation of Emerson's technique, even during his quieter, avant-garde passages, while the steady rhythm of Jackson and drummer Brian Davison keep him tenuously tethered to earth.
The foundations for Emerson's future were laid backstage during this run of shows when he met Crimson vocalist/bassist Greg Lake. Lake had recently realized the horrors of being trapped on a tour bus with Robert Fripp in a vast and unfamiliar country and was looking for a way out. Soon, The Nice would be a footnote and Emerson and Lake would team with drummer Carl Palmer to pave the way for crowd pleasers like Yes and Styx, the merit of which depends on your opinion of Moog synthesizers and poetry about fairies and spaceships. But here's your chance to catch Keith Emerson as a fresh and raw talent, still unspoiled by the trappings of international record chart success and fearless in his instrumental exploration.