The Nice Live at the Fillmore East December 1969 Review

Live. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Keith Emerson's first prog trio in full live action.

Sid Smith 2009

Out of all of EMI's new reissues of The Nice's Charisma label back catalogue, this two-disc set totaling over 90 minutes is likely to be of most interest to fans of The Nice.

Whilst the song titles will be familiar this is the first time this concert at New York's legendary Fillmore East has been released.

Where the studio albums were often a little too variable for their own good, hearing the set flow from start to finish gives us a greater appreciation of how powerful and cohesive a unit The Nice were in concert.

Whilst Keith Emerson's off-the-cuff quotes of Bach and other popular classics may sound a touch arch by today's standards, it's easy to forget how hard-edged and radical this was to audiences largely fed on a diet of bluesy guitar jams.

This, coupled with his theatrical mauling of the Hammond organ, added not only an arresting visual dimension but the resulting ear-bleeding atonality of such pre-meditated destruction gave the group something of an avant-garde frisson as well.

Though Lee Jackson's sandpaper-rasp of a voice suited the rockier repertoire, his limitations are spotlighted in the quieter parts such as their imaginative reading of Tim Hardin's sublime Hang On To A Dream.

Nevertheless, Jackson's bass playing was entirely dependable and together with drummer Brian Davison's always elegant but robust swing, the pair provided an unswerving rhythm section that was in effect the safety net to Emerson's high-wire act.

When this show was recorded The Nice were only weeks away from breaking up. Yet the risk-taking that went from Dylan to Dvorak remains exhilarating, edgy and largely underrated.

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