SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Progressive rock lovers are in for a sacred experience on Sunday, Nov. 17, when Carl Palmer — named “Prog God” at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards — comes to the South Orange Performing Arts Center as part of the final leg of his 2019 World Tour, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer Lives On!”
Ranking among the most renowned drummers in rock history, Palmer was a founding member of iconic bands like Asia and the eponymous Emerson, Lake & Palmer. ELP — named for its legendary founders, keyboardist Keith Emerson, singer and guitarist Greg Lake, and percussionist Palmer — brought together classical music, jazz and rock in a thrilling fusion that rocketed the trio to international acclaim.
At SOPAC, Palmer will perform “ELP Legacy,” a concert version of his 2016 “Pictures at an Exhibition” tribute to Emerson, who died that year, as did Lake.
“So far the tour is going quite well,” Palmer told the News-Record in a Nov. 7 phone interview. “We’re going to play some of the classics, like ‘Trilogy,’ ‘Tarkus’ and ‘Welcome Back.’ And while we’re playing, projected on the back of the stage, will be film gathered over the years. It’s quite a cinematic approach.”
Although unable to perform with Emerson and Lake, Palmer exuded excitement to be playing with current band members — Paul Bielatowicz on guitar and vocals, and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass and Chapman Stick. He even said that if he were to put together a supergroup of musicians today, he would stick with Bielatowicz and Fitzpatrick, especially as their collaboration has allowed him to re-explore classic ELP songs and rearrange them in ways that remain true to the original while embracing new ideas and sounds.
“ELP has been played by classical orchestras, jazz ensembles, string quartets,” Palmer said of the music’s breadth, adding that during this tour he is focusing on string instruments, having phased out keyboards. “It’s just another way to give the music life. It was the heyday with Greg and Keith, but the music lives on in many ways and this is just one of them.”
The music world lost another great in October when Cream drummer Ginger Baker died.
“Cream happens to be one of my favorite groups. I’ve seen them eight times,” Palmer said, adding that Baker “was interesting because he played from a jazz and blues background. He was quite vivacious. He was one of the first to really make what we did work. I was obviously attracted to what he did. He is sadly missed.”
The upcoming South Orange show is just one of many recent performances for Palmer, proving that the drummer born in 1950 in the U.K. is nowhere close to winding down. The “Emerson, Lake & Palmer Lives On!” tour comes at the heels of Palmer’s major U.S. trek in “The Royal Affair Tour” with Yes, Asia and John Lodge of The Moody Blues. Yes is another band that is famous for its innovative prog rock music, and Palmer was pleased to tour with them.
“There are a lot of bands I like quite a lot. I like Yes a great deal and I was just on tour with them,” he said, adding that while he does not have a favorite tour from his decades-spanning career, there are standout performances.
For instance, Palmer said he loves playing Madison Square Garden whenever he gets the chance. Also, he has a special place in his heart for Montreal.
“In Montreal, we made one of the first music videos for an instrumental piece,” he said, referring to the 1977 video of ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which Emerson adapted from Aaron Copland’s 1942 piece of the same name. The video shows ELP band members performing the instrumental piece in an empty Montreal Olympic stadium.
In addition to certain performances, certain pieces of music also stand out for Palmer, who said “Tarkus” is one of his favorite ELP pieces. “Tarkus,” the title track of ELP’s second album, released in 1971, gets its name from an amalgamation of “Tartarus” and “carcass.” The song follows the life of Tarkus — an armadillo-tank creature created by William Neal for the album’s cover — as it is born, fights a manticore and loses, with Tarkus ultimately becoming Aquatarkus.
“‘Tarkus’ is one of my favorites. It’s about 20 minutes of music and it was really the beginning of the concept of prog rock,” Palmer said.
But this tour isn’t just about ELP’s music — it is about Palmer’s continued dedication to making art, both as creator and teacher. Last weekend, he hosted a prog rock camp in Philadelphia, Pa., where he taught the skills necessary for prog rock, as well as concepts.
“There will be various workshops for instruments, with guest musicians, like John Payne, head singer in Asia. We’ll have a concert also,” Palmer said prior to the camp.
Not all of Palmer’s art is aural; he has also delved into the visual arts, making more than 600 canvases with California’s Scene Four Art Studios. This tour highlights Palmer’s art collection, in which he uses digital photography to combine motion, color and lighting. The photographs are taken while he plays the drums using lighted drumsticks; his drumming speed combines with the chrome on his set and the light bounces all around, creating unique and stunning images.
“I get some interesting shapes with various shapes and various colors. It’s quite experimental,” Palmer said, adding that he has been making visual art for the past seven years.
Palmer uses proceeds from his “rhythm on canvas” artwork to support certain charities, like St. Jude Children’s Cancer Research Hospital and the Center for Animal Health & Welfare.
For more information on Palmer, his music and his artwork, visit www.carlpalmer.com and www.carlpalmerart.com. To purchase tickets to see “ELP Legacy” at SOPAC, visit www.sopacnow.org/events/carl-palmer.
Photos Courtesy of Chip Ruggieri