ENTERTAINMENT: Emerson, Lake won’t stay unplugged

“Life’s long. Many things happen,” Greg Lake says.

That include synthesizers — the space-age ’60s gadgetry that largely gave birth to progressive rock — getting old enough to be retro. And it includes Emerson, Lake & Palmer reuniting for a third time.

That won’t happen until a rock festival in England this summer. For now, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake are touring together with a stripped-down tour that visits the Las Vegas Hilton on Saturday. (Drummer Carl Palmer is busy with a reunited Asia.)

The format resembles MTV’s “Unplugged.” However, “It couldn’t be more plugged in,” says the singer. “Mainly. it’s the big stuff, the hard-hitting stuff, but stripped down.”

The two got together in London for some songwriting and would play some of the classics just for fun. “Every time we did it we kind of looked at each other and said, “That’s interesting, the way that sounds without the drums or production.

“We started to think it would be interesting to actually do a show like that,” with a recording studio atmosphere and explanations of how the group’s run of arena-filling ’70s albums came to life.

“It partly exposes the way things were originally written (but) it’s sort of a retrospective view of them as well. You get a sort of before and after view of the same piece of material. It fascinates us anyway to do it.”

The band always had its piano-jazz trio moments, but people remember the screaming synthesizers. Rightly so, Lake says, and they won’t be left out.

“Some of the authentic sounds we created still have this power today. They still have a power. There’s this analog wholesomeness about it,” he says. The old synths “tend to be more expressive. They speak more. They speak almost in a language you understand. The old Moog synthesizers have almost a vocal presence… The modern synths don’t sound human in that sense. They do sound mechanical.”

The old keyboards “make you want to sing along,” he says.

Saturday’s concert offers “an interesting perspective really, on seeing where that initial energy came from.”

Fans may be fascinated merely to see the two together for the first time since 1998, when ELP called it quits for the second time (Their last Las Vegas date was the year before).

Even this reunion got off on the wrong foot, with the first show canceled after the audience was seated, then three more postponed after that. For the first three, keyboardist Emerson’s website claimed the two weren’t ready; Lake’s website said his partner had stage fright. The fourth was blamed on Lake having laryngitis.

“Keith and I have got a special chemistry when we work together,” Lake now says. “We’re passionate about what we do. We really are. People say we argue a lot. In truth, we only argue about music.”

No one ever accused them of arguing about much else (red vs. white wine with fish, maybe?). But his larger point is clear, given the number of classic rockers on the casino circuit that seem to be just going through the motions for the sake of a steady job.

“If you have a band that doesn’t care, that doesn’t think it’s worth fighting for, what kind of band are they? Seems to me you’ve got to be passionate about your music if you really want your best.”

If the summer festival engagement goes well, Lake says more touring may follow. The fruits of those songwriting sessions with Emerson may see the light of day as well.

“All three of us are alive,” he says with no apparent irony. “Nothing lasts forever, and we’re aware of that. We really are aware of that. This is possibly the last chance for us to do it, so we’ve got to try to take that chance.”

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