By Lorraine Kay
Santa Ana, CA – Best known as the “Palmer” in Emerson Lake and Palmer and as the drummer for Asia, Carl Palmer is still one of the most awesome drummers in rock and roll or any other music form. And if it were even possible, he seems to get better and more awesome as time goes by.
Last month he treated the U.S. with a five-week tour, coast to coast, with his new three-piece band – The Carl Palmer Band, which included a stop over in Santa Ana, CA, at the Galaxy Theatre. This incredibly talented trio was everything fans hoped for and more.
This being the first time that the band has toured the U.S. there was anticipation in the audience and curiosity about what Palmer would be like without ELP or Asia and what the new band is all about. So, with Palmer center stage, Paul Bielatowicz on guitar and Stuart Clayton on bass, the band rounded up a powerful set of classic ELP instrumentals, a difficult task at best. (How could a three piece without a keyboardist accomplish it?)
“… it is a case of not only duplicating it, but trying to improve on it,” said Palmer. Bielatowicz and Clayton accepted the difficult challenge of the music meeting it head-on. In Palmer’s words it is “not the easiest type of music to play but if that’s what you enjoy then it’s one of the most rewarding forms of music.”
The main challenge of this gig was to take songs with predominately orchestral keyboard parts and replace them with the guitar. But according to Palmer both Bielatowicz and Clayton enjoy playing the music and are able to blend in to a very tight fit. Talking about the switch from keyboards to guitar, Palmer said, “The keyboards obviously are a lot more orchestral sounding. But on the other hand the guitar has a bit more of a rock element, with more excitement, dare I say.”
And that it did. Featuring Palmer’s drumming throughout the concert, the whole concert was intense and driving. Something kin to an awesome 90 minute drum solo with the guitar and bass interspersed throughout. The fans were euphoric – in a trance- watching Palmer’s every move, which proved difficult, as his hands and sticks at times were merely a blur.
Fans came to see Palmer and couldn’t care less about the rest of the band. Palmer could have set-up his drums as his does in his drum clinics and just showed off for 90 minutes and the fans would have been just as happy. But they got a whole lot more than they bargained for, Bielatowicz and Clayton proved to be just as valuable to this trio as Palmer.
Bielatowicz’s solos and transformation of keyboard parts to guitar was flawless. If the audience was hung up on Keith Emerson’s keyboard parts, their hang-ups melted away listening and watching him work his way through the difficult material. Midway through the concert Palmer and Clayton left Bielatowicz alone on stage to wow the crowd with a medley of songs spun off an incredible rendition of “Flight Of The Bumblebee”. The transition from classical music to rock and roll and jazz was seamless. As he seemed to be winding up the solo Clayton rejoined the guitarist on stage for a powerful duet.
Next the band left Clayton on stage for a most impressive bass solo. Demonstrating a wide variety of fingering and tapping techniques, the bassist had the audience screaming for more, which they got as the lights on stage went down and Clayton continued to play as the fret board and other parts of his guitar lit up with green LED lights – kind of a mini fireworks show as his hands flew up and down the guitar fret board.
For an audience that would have been satisfied for nothing more than Palmer’s drum solo they were breathless watching the two guitarists, a major bonus to everyone. Both guitarists proved to be creative and precise on every song, matching Palmer’s expertise seemingly with ease, something that would have been an overwhelming task for most.
Palmer, a showman at heart, entertained from behind his drums with one powerful and dramatic solo after another with the athletic prowess of a 20 year old. No rising drum platform, but fans were delighted just the same with every little trick that he pulled out of his sleeve like your favorite uncle pulling a quarter or piece of candy out of your ear. For each powerful lick you could hear the audience catch its breath in anticipation and then let it out with a scream when he seemed finished, which at most times was just Palmer taking a breath and then picking it up again. The whole concert was something of a mad roller coaster ride with countless extreme points.
In between each song, Palmer took a trip to a microphone placed strategically in front of his drums center stage to connect with the audience and chat a bit or introduce the next song. When asked why he just didn’t talk from his comfortable place at his drums he said, “You have to understand that the music is quite intense. Instrumental music with no vocals at all …the music is to the wall. So to completely counteract the solid force of live music . . .I try to hit the other end of the spectrum by being slightly cute – to slightly humor the audience – to be friendly – to be down to earth – to be real about what’s going on.”
The band that played last month has only been together since March of this year, the original members of the band that has been touring with Palmer the past four years in Europe, Shawn Baxter and Dave Marks were replaced but because of their expertise on their instruments the newbies stepped up to the plate without skipping a beat. Bielatowicz actually replaced Baxter two years ago when injuries from a car accident made it impossible for him to play again.
It was easy to see that the three musicians enjoyed working together. Palmer, in particular, seemed pleased with his choices for his team, “the standard of the musicianship that’s in the band at the moment is incredibly high. So if you get great music and you’ve got great musicians playing it – it’s everything you could ever ask for really. . . then the overall picture will be very positive.”
And so it was, very, very positive. After taking the audience down memory lane with selections that included “Enemy of God”, “L.A. Nights”, “Tank”, “Bullfrog”, and Toccata, the band closed to a standing ovation, with “Canario”. During “Canario”, Bielatowicz and Clayton left Palmer alone on stage for an extended drum solo that excited the crowd to somewhat of a frenzy as he juggled his drumsticks and bounced them off the cymbals without missing a beat.
As the concert ended the audience was elated to find that the band was waiting graciously to sign autographs, briefly chat and shake hands with their fans. Fans were happy to hear that the band plans to come back for another outing. The band has plans to tour again the end of the year after the Asia Reunion Tour comes to an end. Their plans include another five-week tour of the U.S. beginning in April 2007. For more information on the upcoming tour and new DVD release visit www.carlpalmer.com.