Robert Palmer opened his fall tour at the Mineshaft Monday, and it promises to be more successful than his tour last spring. Palmer has a new album full of good material, the band is in top shape, and Island Records is preceeding him with massive promotions.
Palmer decided to play at the Mineshaft in order to give the band a chance to perform live before hitting big cities. They had practiced seven hours a day for the previous two weeks, and the effort showed. Their playing got tighter and more refined over the course of the two days here.
Palmer's sets are streams of uniterrupted music. In his own words, "We're just going to crazy straight on, we're here to play." The band's tightness was especially noticeable during the segue of Which Of Us Is A Fool?, River Boat and One Last Look. The three songs are different in character, Which Of Us is full of rich percussion thanks to a greatly improved Jody Linscott, River Boat is a steamy hard funk, and One Last Look is a soft ballad. Despite the differences, the group had no trouble bridging from one song to another without breaks or wrong notes.
The emotional intensity Palmer exudes on stage is only hinted at on his albums. His phrasing is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's, but his voice is more powerful. The beat of Palmer's music is so captivating that it is next to impossible to keep still. Even Palmer unconsciously moves to the sound of the music.
According to Palmer, "British audiences want to be impressed, Americans want to be entertained." His hour long set easily provides three concerts worth of entertainment. Whether the crowd is cheering for Pressure Drop, the Sailin' Shoes / Sneakin' Sally medley, or simply because Palmer removed his jacket, they enjoy every minute of the show.
Palmer's set was comprised of four tunes from Sneakin' Sally and seven each from Pressure Drop and Some People Can Do What They Like. The latter album was released two weeks ago and is currently number one on Billboard's FM charts, having beaten out Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life.
There is more continuity in the music on Some People than on the two earlier albums. Palmer's normal concentration span for an album is a month, hence the first two albums were done in parts, under different circumstances. For Some People Palmer managed to go two months without a break, so the songs are more related than previously.
Robert Palmer has all the makings of a star. His music presents some of the best talent that has come out in the last few years. His ambition won't allow him to stop short of fame, and, his sex appeal is simply an added bonus.
Within three years Palmer will probably be playing concerts to 10,000 people over several nights in every city he visits. It's a shame that he will lose the benefit of a club atmosphere, but that is the price that must be paid. Robert Palmer can't afford to be anything but a sensational artist.
... And The Aspiring Artist in His Motel Room
The Robert Palmer relaxing in a jogging suit, his usual daily attire, is quite different from the dynamic soul singer in a sophisticated three piece suit. He is soft spoken, intelligent and very aware of himself and his business, though somewhat distant and reserved except with his close friends. Palmer wants success badly, but, aware of the rigors, has made careful plans in order to reach his goal.
According to road manager Jim McPeak, "Robert is easy to work with because he doesn't screw around. He doesn't drink or get stoned, and is willing to put in the work necessary to become famous." The following is a partial transcript of an interview conducted with Palmer last Monday.
Q: How do you feel after your first night on tour?
A: Oh, great, great! It was the first time the band has played live and I was expecting it to be a lot more low keyed. It's just the beginning of the tour.
Q: How long have you been practicing?
A: A couple of weeks. But the kinds of things that make a band tight you can never rehearse. They only happen in front of an audience and I was very pleased.
Q: How do you think this tour will compare with the last one?
A: A whole another thing. The last tour I only had the band together two days before the first gig and it just generated that thing that makes a show good, and it did well. This time we've got it locked in the beginning so it'll be better from the start. Plus we're doing things better this time.
Q: You're playing most larger halls this time, aren't you? How do you think that's going to effect you, without the club atmosphere?
A: Well, it's what I've wanted to do. First do clubs, then 2,000 seat halls, then the next time larger. I don't want to jump any of the stages, so as each one comes along I'll deal with it as it stands and gain from what I've learned in getting to it.
Q: Will you be playing 15,000 seat auditoriums in a few years?
A: I'd prefer not to. I'd rather play three nights ina 5,000 seat place. There isn't much contact at all in those big places. The sound is usually dreadful. It's just no good. The people look that big (indicating with fingers) and the only bands that away with it just do it by playing real, real loud, and with lots of psychedelic gadgets and things.
Q: By the way, did you know you're very hard to photograph when you sing?
Q: It's not bad, it's just that you're so expressive and into your music that you're constantly moving and hard to capture on film.
A: I didn't even know I moved at all. I don't have any consciousness of myself when I'm singing. If I did, I wouldn't be able to sing.
Q: How do you pick your musicians? What do you look for in a road band?
A: I hire experts at doing specifically what I need at the time. So I get then for all different kinds of reasons. Eventually, I want to get a permanent band, but I can't come trying to find that. It can only develop through the experience of working together with a mutual kind of similar ambitions. Often, you find that very efficient musicians, a lot of them have a kind of sour grapes attitude towards the industry. You can't talk personally or get involved with them because they're so esoteric. So alot of it's really based on personality. There are lot of good players, the style you can recognize immediately. Now I've got enough of a reputation that I'm beginning to attract, and having worked with what I think are the best musicians in the world, I can pick good musicians. I've got the opportunity to recruit good players because they know it's a situation where they'll be well represented. It's very exciting especially since there's nobody directing what I'm doing. Which is the way it is with most situations I know of. That's why I've waited so long to make a show at it, to actually state something. Which is what the first album did, Sneakin' Sally. That turned out so well that I didn't want to jeopardize its potential by jumping the gun. I know what the group is, but just because of that, I don't want to go to stage "F". It is very interesting to check it out and see how well I can use my own politics to adjust the existing situation to such a point. This is a good record company. It's not one of those big high pressure machines like Warner Bros. They'll be the death of Little Feat.
Q: I noticed Island is doing a lot of publicity at the time.
A: Yeah, well it's real obvious I think. I've been with my manager Chris Blackwell for seven years. It's been what I consider serving an apprenticeship in the music business, checking out what was available and what could be done. Then, when I decided what I wanted to do, he gave me all the opportunity to do it, and the first thing was a success. So the next thing to do was try another and see if it was not just a flash in the pan, an accident. That worked, so the next step was to take it to the stage. I did the tour and that created the right feeling. I came back then with the logical followup of the third album.
Q: Have you ever thought about a live album?
A: I like the idea, but I'd like to have at least half of it be new material. If I was going to do a live album, I'd work the songs into the show. If the material is right, it doesn't really matter that the audience hasn't heard it before. On the last tour, I included one song from this album and it was one of the most successful songs because it was good material.
Q: Are you just playing this country this tour?
A: Yes, there's no real demand in Europe and England.
Q: So you're not popular back home, or what used to be home?
A: Yes, I live in Nassau, which is a lot nicer. English winters used to really depress me, so I've earned the right to get around them.
Q: It probably helps your music too, doesn't it?
A: Well, when I want to write, I need to get into that kind of frame of mind where I can concentrate and not be disturbed, you know, because it's like hard work translating the ideas onto a tape recorder. New York has no privacy, Los Angeles has no privacy and London has no privacy. So usually in those places I end up working at night, get up in the late evening and go to bed in the early morning just so I can get some time, which is no good at all. So this situation is really good because it's really quiet so I can work better. Then, when I've got a plan of action ready, I can just come in and get it all done, and that's better.
Q: How will the length of the tour effect you?
A: My optimum time is six to eight weeks. The best shows are at the end because you realize what you've been doing wrong and get everything corrected. Then you just have to quit before you burn out.
Scott Milburn (The Cavalier Daily - 1976)