Concert Review: Carl Palmer's "ELP Legacy Tour"

Live at The Bull Run Restaurant, Shirley, Ma. 5/26/17

SHIRLEY, MASSACHUSETTES – In the mid-80's, this fan had the opportunity to see ELP in concert. However, the line-up was Emerson, Lake & Powell, not the original drummer, Carl Palmer. (Cozy Powell was great! R.I.P.) Now, 30-plus years later, I recently had the opportunity to see Mr. Palmer fronting his own power trio, performing versions of the classic ELP catalog and dubbing the project “Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy Tour.”

Review and photos by Joe Milliken

From our front row table, stage-left, at the Bull Run Restaurant, we had a great side view as Palmer and his band-mates, Paul Bielatowicz on guitar, and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass and Chapman Stick, proceeded to absolutely shred apart, and then reconstruct, (in such a great way) classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer songs. In the process, I might add, practically blowing our heads off (with the occasional, quieter ambient flourish, of course) for over two hours!

The big difference: this power trio is guitar-driven, whereas the original ELP, of course, was keyboard/synthesizer-driven, featuring the late-great Keith Emerson. What especially makes this approach work (for this reviewer), is that instead of attempting to replace the vocal prowess of the late-great Greg Lake with another singer, why not let Paul's incredible guitar work “sing” Lake's lyrics, if you will, through unique and remarkable phrasing. The results are simply fluid and brilliant!

These rearrangements actually don't stray too far from the original ELP compositions, structurally, however, the infusion of Bielatowicz's bad-ass guitar shredding injects new life into these epic songs. Add Fitzpatrick's dynamic bass lines and incredibly atmospheric solos on the Chapman Stick, along with Carl's own incredible, dynamic and intricate drum work, and the results are a creative, powerful and heart-felt tribute to the music of one of the great progressive rock bands.

Thoughtful and charming, Carl would step out front after each number - usually huffing and puffing after just tearing through a number - to talk about the songs and stories behind them, and especially, his late band-mates, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. At one point, he encouraged the audience to take out their cell phones, record and post a snippet from the show online, and dedicate it to his fallen friends. There was also a wide-screen behind the band, showing vintage ELP memories and concert footage throughout the show... another treat.

It would be difficult (within this space) to talk about the individual songs and how this power trio treated them, but keep an eye out for an upcoming, exclusive Standing Room Only interview-article, talking more about the “Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy Tour.” The night's set list included so many ELP favorites: “Karn Evil # 9,” “Hoedown,” “Peter Gunn,” “Lucky Man,” “Take A Pebble,” “Trilogy,” “Pictures at an Exhibition,” “Fanfare For The Common Man,” “Jerusalem,” and “Knife Edge.” A couple cool surprises tossed in also included the epic “Barbarian” from ELP's debut album in 1970, and an incredible cover-version of the King Crimson classic, “21st Century Schizoid Man.” (for which Greg Lake was the original Crimson singer)

Towards the end of the set and before the encore, the 67-year-old Palmer performed one of his legendary drum solos. A sight to behold, and of course, said drum solo coming after some two hours of already-demanding drumming, Carl was powerful, fast, rhythmic, playful, tricky, and intricate, all rolled up into one big 15-minute drumming clinic!

I've been contemplating his solo since, and in the nearly 40 years I have been enjoying concerts, Carl's is arguably the best drum solo I have ever witnessed. At shows end, the audience was thrilled and appreciative, and it surely appeared the band was equally appreciative of the reaction they received, as shouts of “thank you” and “more, more...encore” echoed above the cheering.

One a side note, Palmer is also an avid art collector and an accomplished artist, and displayed a few of his paintings in the venue lobby alongside the merchandise table. In 2012, the innovative art company, Scene 4, sponsored Carl to create a series of art images based on musical and rhythmic concepts. The artworks are a surreal blend of vibrant colors and movement through rhythmic light and reflection, and just another example of the creative talents this man possesses, and still thrives at, fifty years strong.

If you are a fan of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, it is a shame that two-thirds of this legendary band are no longer with us. However, the remaining link is as strong as ever, and it is well worth your while to witness Carl Palmer's unique tribute to the band that made him world-famous. If you get the opportunity to see the “ELP Legacy Tour,” do not pass it up. “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends... we're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside!”

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