Concert Review Archive

The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert

Saturday, 28th May 2016
The El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, US

Article and photos by Patrick McAfee.

Keith Emerson tribute

The Official Keith Emerson tribute concert was held in Los Angeles on May 29th 2016 at the fantastic El Rey Theater. Even though Keith was originally from England, there was something quite fitting about this show being held in Southern California. Keith had lived in Los Angeles/Santa Monica for the last 20+ years of his life and it seems that he really took the area and the local music scene to heart. I attended quite a few shows over the years and noticed Keith in attendance as an audience member. He had a devoted group of friends here, many of whom participated in this concert. One of those friends is Marc Bonilla, the multi talented songwriter/musician that was a key part of The Keith Emerson Band. Marc was a long time fan and the 2008 KE Band debut album saw a revitalized Keith sounding as good as ever. The two continued to collaborate on recordings and concerts until Keith's untimely passing earlier this year.

Marc was a central figure in this event and by all accounts, the show wouldn't have happened without his efforts. It was clear from his performances throughout the evening, that this was a special show for Marc. Along with sharing memories of Keith, he played with a passion and energy that was quite stunning. If his goal was to ensure a unique concert commemorating the music and life of his friend, Marc succeeded in grand fashion. The same commitment and enthusiasm he displayed was equally met by every performer who graced the stage on this memorable evening. It was quite an all star line up, including Brian Auger, Eddie Jobson, Jordan Rudess, Steve Lukather, Steve Pocaro, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gregg Bissonette, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Mike Wallace, CJ Vanston, Rachel Flowers and many others.

Keith Emerson tribute

The show began effectively with a montage of photographs of Keith in performance and with family and friends. It was an emotional start and the mood it created carried into the stunning opening performance by Kae M Black of Keith's piano piece, Prelude to a Dream. The results of this quiet opening were powerful and equally effective was the immediate shift to celebrate the raw and electrifying energy of much of the music that Keith created. Starting in the traditional way of many a ELP concert, they kicked things off with a high energy rendition of Karn Evil # 9. This was only the beginning of the great music in store for those in attendance. For an evening so understandably full of emotion, this was ultimately a night for celebration and Emerson's talents as a composer and performer rightfully took center stage. The indelible impression that he left on these performers and so many other was abundantly clear.

There were so many great performances and memorable moments included in this three hour and fifteen minute show. From a talent perspective, this line up of musicians who Keith called friends was staggering. That fact was represented in one stunning musical performance after another. Though nothing can quite match some of the great shows that I saw Keith give over the years, I think I am safe in saying that I have never seen his music performed with this much energy. With the onetime chance for each musician to showcase the music of their friend and musical idol, they took full advantage of the opportunity. The performances throughout were consistently brilliant.

Keith Emerson tribute

Classic ELP radio favorites like Karn Evil # 9, In the Beginning and Lucky Man were covered in entertaining style. The real highlight though from an ELP perspective was the inclusion of rarely performed songs like Tank and The Endless Enigma. This opening track from the Trilogy album included a performance by the immensely talented Rachel Flowers, who received a huge ovation from the crowd. There was even a rip roaring rendition of Are you Ready Eddie? featuring Rick Livingstone on vocals. The musicians on stage would shift from song to song, which really emphasized the vast amount of talent on display. Eddie Jobson joined on excellent performances of Bitches Crystal, Lucky Man (Jobson's moog work at the end of the song shook the walls) and Fanfare for the Common Man. The latter of which included a brass section conducted by Emerson collaborator and friend, Terje Mikkelsen.

Jordan Rudess told the crowd how Keith changed his musical life and was showcased on a fantastic full performance of Tarkus. Aside from ELP material, the setlist also included a few Keith Emerson solo and band tracks, including a heartfelt performance of A Place to Hide. Without listing out each musician, suffice to say that it was apparent that everyone on the stage poured their heart and soul into their performances. Most importantly, the fun that they were clearly having playing this great music was contagious.

Keith Emerson tribute

Aside from the celebration of Keith's art, the evening was a representation of the man himself. There were touching words of remembrance and thanks from family members as well as fellow musicians/friends. It would be difficult to have a show dedicated to Keith without the importance of Robert Moog in his life coming into play. Moog's daughter, Michelle gave a touching speech about the unbreakable connection between her Dad and Emerson.

The words of Keith's fiancée, Mari were especially profound as she spoke of his hope to be remembered as a composer and her plea to keep Keith's music alive by passing it on to younger generations. His son, Aaron Emerson spoke to the crowd and performed an original and effective solo piano piece. Also, a beautiful Emerson piece was performed on piano and cello accompanied by a visual presentation of Keith's life. The visuals included photos both humorous and heartbreaking. The overall effect was extremely moving and cemented just how special this show was.

Keith Emerson tribute

Ultimately though, Keith's life as a musician and composer was in the spotlight and one could not watch this concert without feeling the monumental impact of his career. The influence that Keith had on the music world as well as generations of musicians and fans is massive. As he spoke to the audience, Brian Auger mentioned several times that he felt that Keith's spirit was in that room. It was a comment that no one in attendance would challenge. Keith Emerson's legacy as a father, partner, friend and as a truly one of a kind artist and innovator was on display for every second of this memorable event. His family and friends did him proud. This was a show for the ages and truly one of the best concerts I have ever seen.

Prelude to a Hope
Karn Evil # 9
The Barbarian
Touch and Go
The Endless Enigma
Take a Pebble
A Place to Hide
Fanfare/Blue Rondo
Aaron Emerson original piece
From the Beginning
Bitches Crystal
Fanfare for the Common Man
Lucky Man/Great Gates of Kiev
Are you Ready Eddie
Commotion (from Marc Bonilla's EE Ticket)

Keith Emerson official Website

The El Rey Theater


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