When it comes to rock and roll drummers, Carl Palmer joins the ranks of the most regarded drummers in the genre. Under the touring name of Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, the drummer intended it to be a celebration of his 50th year as a professional musician. However, in early 2016 when tragedy struck his former bandmate Keith Emerson (who was set to join Palmer on a few shows), the show quickly turned around to a tribute to Emerson.
Palmer stopped by the Paramount Hudson Valley theater on June 16 with his performance, joined by Paul Bielatowicz on guitar and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass. Without Emerson’s legendary keyboard role in the mix of the sound, the group took a new form of power trio to interpret and present Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s music. Channeling the groundbreaking progressive rock format in this setting doesn’t seem like an easy task, but Palmer did it in a fresh way that was just as exciting as ELP’s recordings.
The two-set show started off with a punchy version of the Peter Gunn theme and continued with many of the iconic original and classical re-arrangements that make up the ELP library. Throughout the evening, Palmer took a moment between each song to break from the kit to share a story about the tune, particularly if there was a connection to Emerson. Most notably, he dedicated “Pictures of an Exhibition” to Emerson, which had been one of Emerson’s favorites.
Palmer’s band can properly be called a power trio — their sound was rich, robust, and complete to fill out the fresh take on ELP’s songs. In a way, it sounded like a really good garage band with a progressive rock influence.
Fitzpatrick alternated between bass and Chapman Stick, which coupled with Bielatowicz’s guitar recreated Emerson’s keyboard parts which defined many of ELP’s songs. Behind them (or rather, front and center on the stage), Palmer’s technical and powerful drum playing was just as, if not more, vivid than in his younger ELP years. Both Fitzpatrick and Bieltowicz had opportunities to show their chops with solos — an instrumental version of “Take a Pebble” by Fitzpatrick on Chapman Stick and Bielatowicz with a multi-part solo guitar solo right before the intermission.
Leading out of “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Palmer broke out an extended solo, fairly routine at the start. Building up the solo, he mixed in some electronic drums buried in the kit. After a few minutes navigating the kit, a grin grew on his face as he stood up to show off some Buddy Rich-style stick tricks that drew some quick applause.
Before calling it a night, Palmer introduced the encore by encouraging the audience to take their phones out and record and post a video of it in memory of Keith.