Palmer & Legacy ‘Welcome Back’ ELP faithful

Live Review

Carl Palmer of ELP. Photo by Chyrisse.

By Vlad T, Journalist, and Chyrisse Tabone, Photographer

Live Review: Carl Palmer’s ‘Welcome Back My Friends -50- The Return of  Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’ – Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL – February 23, 2024

Carl Palmer of ELP. Photo by Chyrisse.

Drummer Carl Palmer, the “Sole Survivor” of Brit prog rock legends Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) and Asia, could easily rest on his considerable laurels and enjoy an emeritus role in rock history.

However, the drumming luminary has done the exact opposite.

This decade has seen Palmer and a tight group of sidemen relentlessly tour the globe, performing modern versions of classics from ELP’s heyday. It was this unit, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, that made a triumphant, headlining return to Ruth Eckerd Hall on February 23rd.

The Legacy’s mission has been to celebrate the sounds and memories of both ELP and a rich array of 19th- and 20th-Century composers whose works influenced them.

Carl Palmer of ELP. Photo by Chyrisse.

At the tour’s onset, Palmer decided he wanted to honor and somehow invoke stylings of his deceased ELP cohorts (keyboardist Keith Emerson and vocalist Greg Lake) through both sights and sound in the shows. An option was to follow the trend of using holograms in ‘live’ performance; however, Palmer instead chose a more-honest approach, tastefully integrating footage from a 1992 ELP reunion show with the live contributions of current bandmates Paul Bielatowicz (guitar/vocals) and Simon Fitzpatrick (bass).

The evening’s performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall revealed Palmer to be in top form as both musician and showman, as were guitarist Bielatowicz and bassist Fitzpatrick. Supplementing their efforts at judiciously chosen points of the evening were the aforementioned video appearances of Emerson and Lake on prominent screens above the proceedings.

Negotiating a blend of ELP’s numerous hits (“Lucky Man,” “Karn Evil #9 pt 2”, “Fanfare for the Common Man”), its deeper catalogue (“Tarkus,” “Knife Edge,” “Hoedown”, the playful “Benny the Bouncer”), and other popular 19th/20th century composers (a whimsical reading of Debussy’s “Clair de lune”, Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, Bernstein’s “America”), Palmer and his cohorts—both live and on video—ably reminded its Ruth Eckerd Hall faithful why ELP was such a popular force in 70s music.

Carl Palmer of ELP. Photo by Chyrisse.

And bridging the different eras of ELP was Carl Palmer, long acknowledged by music aficionados as a premier drummer/rhythmatist in the rock era. Throughout the evening, the preternaturally youthful and fit Palmer showed his legendary form, punctuating his equally storied band’s material with perfect pace and nuance, then bringing down the house with a solo performance that invites comparisons to the likes of Gene Krupa. It never sounded forced or indulgent; it entirely was in service to the songs.

A band, indeed, can only be as good as its drummer, and Carl Palmer’s performances are a token of how he helped make ELP’s material a compelling listen at the band’s peak and even now, decades later.

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