Carl Palmer’s percussive talents, which came to light during the ‘70s as a member of the progressive rock trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer, place him in at the top of the drum pantheon alongside Rush’s Neil Peart. For the past five years, Palmer has been touring Europe, recreating the music of ELP with a guitar replacing Emerson’s keyboards. This summer, Palmer has brought his celebration to the States and is joined by two talented young musicians: bassist Stuart Clayton and guitarist Paul Bielatowicz.
The Galaxy Theater is a small club in Santa Ana, CA, holding 550 on the floor, by the bar, and seated at tables and Vegas-theater booths. Though a small place, I was surprised to see the place packed for an artist who hasn’t been around or had any new material for almost a decade. The crowd was mainly made up of 40- and 50-year-olds, fans from the band’s heyday, but there was a mix of young people, including Fantasma el Rey and a couple of his friends.
I didn’t discover ELP until the mid- to late-‘80s while attending college after the band had gone on hiatus. I enjoy the classical/rock hybrid music they created while understanding how it can be too much for others. I had seen variations live in the form of Emerson, Lake and Powell, and 3, which consisted of Emerson and Palmer, before finally seeing them together in 1997.
The stage was set up with a microphone at the front of the stage for Palmer to come out between numbers and host the festivities. He is a fan of the music just as much as the audience and had a great sense of humor, even self-deprecating at times. When he introduced “Bullfrog” from Works II, he asked if people remembered the white album, clarifying he didn’t mean The Beatles’ version, and then quickly stated there would be no refunds. Before playing “Canario” from Love Beach, he remarked that the band looked like The Bee Gees on the album’s cover.
The set began with Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” and it was immediately apparent that the guitar capably replaced the keyboards. They continued with Bartok’s “The Barbarian”, Copland’s “Hoedown”, Prokofiev’s “The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits”, “Trilogy”, and “L.A. Nights”, which Palmer co-wrote with Joe Walsh.
Palmer left and let the two musicians play. Bielatowicz has amazing skills. His nimble fingers flew across the strings, reminding me of Eddie Van Halen, as Clayton laid down a steady rhythm for him dance around. Bielatowicz’ face is very expressive, almost as if he’s just as surprised with the sounds he was creating. He threw in bits of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” and “The Wallace and Gromit Theme”. Palmer came back. Bielatowicz stepped out, and Clayton soloed. The stage lights dimmed, revealing cool lights on the neck of his bass.
The trio reunited and they played “Tank”. On “Bullfrog”, Bielatowicz played his guitar with an electric toothbrush, creating some very interesting sounds. Palmer delivered a great double bass drum workout. During “Toccata”, Clayton pounded his bass from behind the fret board. Standing on the floor in the front of the stage, I could feel the force of the drums.
The set ended with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”. Palmer closed out the show with a brilliant solo that awed the crowd. Words alone cannot do his performance justice. He performed all sorts of tricks like balancing a drumstick across his finger and hitting one end so it played the cymbal in a seesaw motion. If you are a lucky man and witness a Carl Palmer drum solo, the bar is raised very high, so expect to be disappointed at future concerts.
After encoring with Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet”, the only song performed from the band’s ‘90s output, Palmer had a meet-and-greet with the fans and signed autographs. He is a very humble, down-to-earth man who appreciates his audience as much as they appreciate him. In September, Palmer is performing with the original members of Asia in the United States before continuing planned future dates in Europe and the UK with The Carl Palmer Band.