Brain Salad Surgery is the quintessential ELP album. Every element of their classic formula: a silly song, an acoustic ballad, a symphonic cover, and an epic work so long it surpassed the limitations of the vinyl form.
Unsurprisingly, this album received consistent live performance. As well as being performed in its entirety during ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery tour, it also received revivals throughout the years. Below I will be looking at some of these performances. The most notable performances of the material are from the live album Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends ~ Ladies and Gentlemen (recorded February 1974) and California Jam (April 1974), but I have done my best to vary the examples.
Ironically, the most controversial song on Brain Salad Surgery was the opening number, “Jerusalem”. It was banned by the BBC due to the perceived indecency of a hymn being played by a rock band. Ironically, this came despite the fact that ELP were entirely sincere in their production, a fact highlighted in the 2016 special release booklet. “Jerusalem” was performed second each night of the Brain Salad Surgery tour, including on the live album Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends…
Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy has also performed this song live. The ELP Legacy band always performs devoid of singing; despite the fact that this is a hymn, the lyrics are left out.
The second song, “Toccata”, was used on the tour as a showpiece for the versatility of Carl Palmer and his enormous drum kit. Thus, such a performance is better appreciated in a visual context.
Still…You Turn Me On
“Still…You Turn me On”’s live history actually predates the release of the album, first appearing in the spring of 1973 during the Get Me A Ladder tour in Europe. The original versions featured radically different second sections, even changing from night to night. These are relatively rare.
Greg Lake would perform the song on acoustic guitar live with no accompaniment during this tour. He later resurrected the song on Emerson, Lake & Powell’s tour. It was also played throughout the 90s, as well as on Lake’s solo tours.
Benny the Bouncer
“Benny the Bouncer” was only ever performed on the Brain Salad Surgery tour. It was not performed with the other two comic ELP songs, “Jeremy Bender” and “The Sheriff”, which made up a two-part comedy section.
Karn Evil 9
“Karn Evil 9” is the band’s longest work, split up into three full movements. It’s also probably the most famous of their longform songs, except perhaps for “Tarkus”. Surprisingly for this
was only performed in full during the Brain Salad Surgery Tour. Interestingly, the third impression was consistently modulated a step and a half down in live performances as compared to the studio version.
It’s first impression, like “Still…You Turn me On”, has a live history predates the album. Versions with mostly-identical music, but differing lyrics appear from live recordings taken of the Get Me a Ladder Tour. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any of these on YouTube.
During the Brain Salad Surgery tour, Carl Palmer’s drum solo spot shifted to “Karn Evil 9: First Impression-Part 2”. He would perform on a rotating kit.
The source of the vocals on “Third Impression” seemed to vary from night to night. It’s unclear to me based on recordings if Keith Emerson would nightly run his voice through his synthesizer in order to distort it, as he did on the album, or if he played a prerecorded version. A performance from Empire Pool (now Wembley Stadium) from April 20, 1974 seems to feature his actual voice devoid of effects, though the sound quality is fairly poor, so it’s difficult to tell for sure. The best guess I can give is that it would vary from night to night.
Karn Evil 9’s “First Impression, Part 2” received the greatest live performance over the years. Greg Lake would perform it live with his solo shows with Gary Moore in the early 80s. Interestingly, while ELP usually had to modulate songs down to suit Lake’s voice live, even in the 70s, these performances actually featured Lake and Moore performing the song modulated up half a step! In some of these performances, Lake can be heard struggling a bit on the A4 notes, which were just barely within his singable range even in the early 80s.
Emerson, Lake & Powell also performed the song live at their own shows during their sole tour. The song was also used to open concerts in the 90s, and notably was the first song played at ELP’s final concert at the High Voltage festival in 2010. These late performances featured the song modulated down to better suit Lake’s voice.
As a coda, I will include a beautiful summation of this song throughout its history onstage with Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
- Edit on 2020-09-01: Added extra info. Optimized for new site. Updated formatting. Added live version of “Still…” from the Get Me A Ladder Tour.
- Edit on 2020-11-19: Updated formatting. Added live version of “Karn Evil 9” from the Greg Lake/Gary Moore tour.