How Carl Palmer Is Honoring His Late ELP Bandmates on New Tour
Carl Palmer is preparing to hit the road soon with one of his all-star bands. And he has his other popular group on the runway.
The drummer begins his 10-date Welcome Back My Friends - The Return of Emerson, Lake & Palmer Tour — during which he'll be playing live with video and audio recordings of his late bandmates — on Nov. 18 in Philadelphia. (You can view a complete list of those tour dates down below.) Then he'll return to Asia for a 20-show tour in mid-February to belatedly celebrate the 40th anniversary of that band's four-times-platinum self-titled debut album. Alan Parsons is slated to be Asia's partner on the tour.
"To me, it's all just part of my career, and if there's an anniversary, let's do it," Palmer tells UCR. "It doesn't seem like that long ago; nothing ever does when you're our age . It all seems like it was yesterday. Some of it is very clear, some of it isn't very clear."
The Asia 2023 tour lineup will feature Palmer and co-founder Geoff Downes, with Yes bassist Billy Sherwood, who's been part of Asia since 2017. The newcomer will be southpaw singer and guitarist Marc Bonilla, who was part of the Keith Emerson Band and has also played with Glenn Hughes, Ronnie Montrose, California Transit Authority and others. "[Bonilla] was an idea of mine," Palmer says. "I thought he'd be good to bring in."
Steve Howe, another Asia co-founder who served as a kind of special guest on the band's last trek during the 2019 Royal Affair Tour, opted out of this run. "He needs to reserve his energy for Yes at the moment. That's what I'm hearing," Palmer says. "He might join later." Bonilla is the 17th musician to log time as an Asia member, a group Palmer says has become facile with the changes. "It's about being professional, that's all I can say," Palmer notes. "There's a job to do and everybody gets down and does it. We enjoy doing it — I think that's what's very important."
Palmer has also been having a good time putting together the Welcome Back My Friends show, celebrating ELP's 50th anniversary, which was delayed due to the pandemic. He first investigated using hologram images of Emerson and Greg Lake, but after looking at prototypes he decided that "that didn't work for me. It was a bit spooky for me. It just didn't seem to be a fit." Instead, he opted for footage taken from the trio's 1992 performances at London's Royal Albert Hall, which was released as a live album and a now out-of-print home video. "It was a five-camera shoot," Palmer recalls. "And the recording of the music was done individually, so there were all individual tracks of absolutely everything. And it's absolutely fantastic.
"It was obviously good enough because we released it on a DVD, but the label sold out the following week, two weeks, and this DVD got lost in the wash. At the time it was upsetting, but right now it's pretty good for me because the footage on this DVD is absolutely superb. So I thought this is the most honest way to do it because this is not some actor dressed up as Keith Emerson. This is actually Keith Emerson playing the keyboards, likewise with Greg Lake."
Watch ELP Perform 'Lucky Man' at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1992
The video of Emerson and Lake will be featured on six songs (including "Lucky Man," "From the Beginning," "Knife-Edge" and "Paper Blood") during the shows on video screens flanking the stage, with Palmer playing along live in the center. His current trio, Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy, will also perform, as well as enhance some of the ELP songs — most notably a portion of the "Karn Evil 9" suite from 1973's Brain Salad Surgery album. "On that particular night at the Royal Albert Hall we only played a section of ['1st Impression, Pt. 2'], the front section up to the first verse, and then at the point of the keyboard solo, we stopped and went into something else," he explains. "So now, where the keyboard section was meant to start but didn't, that's where my band will take over. It'll be almost 50-50 between the two."
Palmer says that putting the show together was emotional at first. Both Emerson and Lake died in 2016 — Emerson by suicide on March 11 at the age of 71, and Lake on Dec. 7 of pancreatic cancer at 69. "Seeing them on film, playing their very best and looking great, yeah, sure it was emotional," Palmer acknowledges. "It touched me, that's for sure. But after spending all this time [on the show], I'm kind of through with the emotional bit, if you see what I mean. I'm down to the practicalities of getting it right for those two guys. That's the most important thing for me." Palmer has the backing of both men's estates, and he's also confident that Emerson and Lake "would have loved this because they were big technology freaks."
Palmer is viewing the upcoming tour as a trial run for the concept and is holding off on scheduling more at the moment. "We're getting offers," he says. "There was an offer from Switzerland a few weeks back, and we had one from Israel come in. But I'm accepting nothing else at the moment. I want to play the 10 dates, iron out any gremlins that might be there, make sure it's all as good as what I want and also see what the American public thinks about it. It's taken a bit of time to get to this, so we'll see how it goes, and if it goes well, then I'm sure there will be more."
The Welcome Back My Friends - The Return of Emerson Lake & Palmer Tour 2022
Nov. 18 - Philadelphia, PA @ 2300 Arena
Nov. 20 - Jim Thorpe, PA @ Penn's Peak
Nov. 22 - Wayne, NJ @ Shea Center
Nov. 23 - Patchogue, NY @ Patchogue Theater
Nov. 25 - New York, NY @ Town Hall
Nov. 26 - New Haven CT @ College St. Music Hall
Nov. 27 - Boston MA @ Wilbur Theatre
Dec. 1 - St. Charles. IL @ Arcada Theatre
Dec. 2 - Des Plaines IL @ Des Plaines Theatre
Dec. 3 - Akron, OH @ The Goodyear Theatre