General Thoughts: ELP’s “Live In Zurich” and Why it Matters

I pity you, O readers. This is the day upon which all of you realize my truly insufferable nature, if you haven’t already. For those of you who read through this without falling asleep, I congratulate you.

Today, I am going into the backstory of one particular piece of ELP history: The concert that has been labeled “Live In Zurich 1970” and is currently available on YouTube here. I’ll go into a bit of information about its true nature (hint: neither of those things reflected in the title are true), and why that matters at all.

This concert video means a great deal to me, largely because it was the one which helped kick my love of Emerson, Lake and Palmer into high gear. After I had watched it, I was more impressed by their music and their musicianship than ever.

Not to mention the fact that I saw them as they were for the first time: three young guys, not much older than I myself, who truly loved what they did and felt a true sense of camaraderie while doing so, whose motivations for taking up music were pure, and who were about as far away from “pretentious” as you could imagine.

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(GIF made from this video)

As one of the earliest filmed ELP concerts, it has an important place in history too. It shows what the band was like just as they were exploding onto the scene, before the Persian carpets and gigantic roadie trains, before the spinning pianos and revolving drum sets. This was just three guys and the music they made.

As you all may know, I’m very fond of listening to concerts, any I can get my hands on. Imagine, to my surprise, when I found that there was a recording of the concert on Zurich on December 4, 1970! The show was never officially released by the band, but there was a bootleg made.

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Retrieved with recording.

Already, however, there are problems with its identification. First and foremost, unless the trio switched clothes between acts, the “Live in Zurich” video was made of at least two concert nights. However, several sites (including this one) only list one Zurich concert date. There’s a possibility that the two had simply done two shows in one night, as they would occasionally do, and only one was recorded.

Secondly, Preacher Man opens with “Pictures at an Exhibition”, which is not once present in the concert video of “Live in Zurich”. This, however, also has a potential explanation. They could have just not recorded everything; ELP concerts stretched on even in the early days, and would have made for an exhausting watching experience after a while.

Even if these things were explainable, there was a third fact. Of the pieces which appeared in both the video and the bootleg–”The Barbarian”, “Take a Pebble”, “Knife-Edge”, “Rondo”, “Nutrocker”, and even “Preacher Blues”–not one matches between the video and the bootleg. Two small but famous moments in Take a Pebble at which points the bandmates exchanged banter or messed with the cameras are not present in any form on the bootleg. The problem with this is that horseplay took place on both nights of the concert, resulting in audience laughter audible on the video but not in the bootleg.

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And no, he didn’t just take off his jacket between shots; these both take place during Greg Lake’s solo, when the last thing which he’d be doing is removing a jacket. That’s Carl Palmer’s trick, not his.

Further confounding this problem is the fact that there is a concert which matches the “Zurich” video (available here). Although the order does not match, certain little tells occur throughout that show that the audio is a perfect copy, down to audience reaction, above-mentioned horseplay, Keith Emerson’s improv, and even Lake’s occasional whooping. This, however, complicates matters more than ever.

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Retrieved with recording

As you can see, the concert is advertised as being “Live in London,” but as the site which I retrieved the cover from states, the concert wasn’t actually live in London at all, but in Düsseldorf, Germany, either on the 17th (according to them) or the 13th (according to the YouTube concert site). This, too, is a problematic date, as this concert is solely made up of material from the first album, whereas the 1971 tours routinely featured material from Tarkus, which had been recorded that January and was released in June 1971. In short, this concert likely didn’t take place in either of those places or on those dates.

However, there have been whispers all along that it was somewhere else. Most of the videos I have featured comments along the lines of “This was recorded in Brussels in February 1971″. This site backs up these claims, and most importantly, a few frames of the video claim to be shot for the “Belgian Pop Shop”. In short, the concert video probably shouldn’t be called “Live in Zurich,” but “Live in Brussels”.

Why, my friends, does this matter in the end? It’s not like I’ve discovered brand new information, just did my own investigation. More importantly, it’s not like one cannot enjoy the concert without realizing exactly which city it occurred in and what nights upon which it was taking place.

Well, whether we like it or not, ELP belongs to the ages now. Keith Emerson is gone. Greg Lake is gone. Carl Palmer is still here, performing with his own take on ELP’s legacy, but the majority of the band is still beyond us forever. Historical accuracy is more important than ever if we are to interpret what was truly going on.

Furthermore, there is the personal side of things. Many voices have risen over the years claiming that ELP was in a tense mood in early 1971. The recording of ‘Tarkus’ reportedly nearly ended the band, with some sources claiming Lake threatened to quit over Tarkus, while others claim that Emerson himself threatened to quit over Lake’s uncomfortable reaction to the same! With the rumors that either or both are pretentious egomaniacs running rampant in spite of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, this concert is key for one thing.

None of them were good enough actors to fake little moments like these, moments where they were clearly enjoying what the other was doing musically. Regardless of how the Tarkus session went, this speaks volumes at these musicians’ professionalism. They managed to resolve any differences they had over small things and get back to the business of making music and having the time of their lives doing so. And it says that what Greg Lake occasionally claimed, that ELP was family, had at least a kernel of truth.

(Bootleg covers retrieved from here. Thank you also to Helen for help in researching).

Thank you so much for reading. If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating on my ko-fi page or becoming a patron on my patreon. I appreciate your help!

  • Note: this was originally written and posted on another site in August 2017. It appears in modified form here.
  • Edit on 2020-09-04: Optimized for new site.

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