Keith Emerson’s Next-to-Last Battle
When Synthesizer Encountered Guitar
The next-to-last battle of Keith Emerson was a full-fledged victory indeed, the crowning moment of his career as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Armed with his synthesizers, the battle was joined in Moscow in a spectacular display with his knight errant none other than super-guitarist Marc Bonilla. Side by side, two great instrumentalists joined forces in 2008 for an exceptional concert in the Russian capital, the best place for classical music to cross swords with rock one more time. The finishing touch for another legend, and one featuring our beloved six strings.
The genius who made us dance to the Nutrocker while he gave a lesson in playing piano is once again in the headlines. As dictated by the all-too tragic tradition of rock stars, his death at 71 hasn't gone unnoticed. We respect his personal hell. Better to pay him tribute in Guitars Exchange with a recording that, in addition to being virtually his last live appearance, satisfies the desire of many fans by including Bonilla, a guitarist capable of engaging in musical dialogue with his keyboards on an equal footing. He also lends a hand with the vocals, of course.
For proof, it's enough to listen to the two of them -and watch them on the DVD recorded on that 26th August- during the 35-minute version of Tarkus that closed the show before the inevitable Nutrocker, a perfect finale for the party. Despite their presence in the set and the occasional appearance of other familiar songs such as Lucky Man, Moscow isn't just the customary performance of the 'greatest hits'. It also includes fragments of the soundtracks Emerson composed, pieces by Bonilla and others co-written for the studio record of the Keith Emerson Band. Moscow wasn't a mere way station for the pair, as has occurred with other "superstars" of his generation.
Emerson and Bonilla turned things around with new arrangements to some of the finest moments in the keyboard player's career, the ELP legacy taken from a new perspective, where the left-handed Yamaha custom-made for Bonilla also takes on a featured role. A double interpretation where jazz, rock and classical are locked in a definitive embrace.
In this clash of titans, Emerson's Moog is playing with the advantage of the nimble fingers of its leading icon unleashing full-speed exchanges, jumping from one keyboard to another, or switching to the 'grand piano'. Only when Emerson realizes he is reaching the breaking point does he give way to Bonilla, who tries to hold up his end as best he can, as only he knows how to.
A year later, the duo would turn into a more rocking trio with bassist Glenn Hughes, forming the Boys Club and recording a new live album in California. Another indispensable 'monster record' to understand what this is all about: music and only music. Without it, life had no meaning for Keith Emerson.