Friday afternoon I was tipped off by a music loving colleague that Keith Emerson would be in town Monday and perfoming live to present his new album at the Parkteatret in Grünerløkka, a rather trendy (and nice) part of Oslo. Sharing the bill would be Norwegian prog/jazz wonderboys Elephant 9… Can you imagine the urge to get tickets?Parkteatret proved to be a rather small venue which quite nicely filled up with about 200 music lovers (yes, indeed, for the greater part mature, grey-ish gentlemen). The new album was for sale (of course) and this was the first time I bought vinyl at a gig… (in addition to the CD/DVD, obviously). Cool, but kind of unpractical when you’re standing in a crowded venue…
It took quite a bit of patience before the gig finally started, but then, Norwegians are typically unstressed… Elephant 9 took the stage with keyboardist extraordinaire Ståle Storløkken behind a real roaring Hammond organ accompanied by bass player Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen and drummer Torstein Lofthus. Since this gig I have an addition to my list favourite drummers - Torstein is an amazing rhythm machine who plays incredibly tight and what I like a lot is the way he managed to keep eye contact with the other members (especially Ståle) while hitting everytyhing around him in perfect time. He was centre stage with bass on his right and Hammond on his left and it was hard not to focus just on him. While bass player Nikolai kept a fairly steady pace, it was very much Ståle to do quick runs and experiment on his keys. A shame that he didn’t bring his fender Rhodes for this gig, but then… I understand that he concentrated on the Hammond in honour of one of his major influences, Keith Emerson. Three pieces of about 10 minutes each and the gig was over way too soon.
While some minor adjustments were done on stage, professor in popular music Bjørn Ole Rasch started leading a Q&A session with Marc Bonilla, Keith Emerson and Terje Mikkelsen about their Three Fates Project in particular and their musical past in general. The interview was rather informal and informative, at times also very funny. Bonilla was in excellent mood, and probably the easiest talker of the threesome, but Emerson got obviously most of the questions, something he wasn’t all comfortable with all of the time. Wonder if he was a bit anxious (he said as much, this being his first public performance in almost two years) or if there was something else. He seemed a tad absent at occasions, but then came back with a funny anecdote to react on questions.
After this lengthy interview session (in which the audience was allowed to participate), Marc Bonilla was the first to play on stage. His “American matador” featured him solo on guitar with the orchestra coming from disc. As Terje Mikkelsen ironically remarked with regard to the size of the venue: “We had the choice of either bringing an orchestra or having an audience”. It’s a great piece of music with an interesting Spanish (almost flamenco) touch and it was a joy to see Bonilla’s fluent playing.
After that Keith took place behind the Grand piano on the other side of the stage for a piano improvisation (I would have loved to see Keith touch the Hammond that stood so close to him all of the time - but I do understand that he stuck mainly to the piano for this occasion). I’m not really sure what it exactly was he played, but I recognized a bit of “Tarkus” at the start and there may have been a tad of “The endless enigma” been in there as well. But I stand corrected… Marc joined for the closing section with some dreamy guitar lines.
After that the rhythm section of Elephant 9 joined Keith and Marc for a wonderful version of “Stones of years”. Keith led the piece with Grand piano into a really jazzy mood and gradually things moved to a rockier side when Marc’s guitars took over the lead. Awesome!
After this Keith moved from his Grand piano to the synths on the centre of the stage. During the previous piece a horn section (and someone on kettle drums) from the Royal Norwegian Navy had already been waiting on stage, but for the next piece that was to be performed, “Fanfare for the common man”, they were allowed to join in. Terje Mikkelsen conducted the first part, which was the original Copland version with horns, after this the rock band took over (and off) with a smashing version of this classic. Bjørn Ole Rasch joined the group for the occasion providing additional synths. Horn section and band closed off together in a smashing finale - a bit of a shame that the band drowned out most of the sound of the horns.
After a short break Keith returned to the stage for a piano-only version of “Tarkus” (about the first half of the piece) which closed off an all too short evening. Keep your fingers crossed that the Three Fates do return - with a full orchestra!