LIVE: The Ed Palermo Big Band @ Proctors’ GE Theatre, 4/18/14

The Ed Palermo Big Band
The Ed Palermo Big Band

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu


I can’t remember the last time that a concert left me so breathless. The 17-piece Ed Palermo Big Band rolled into Proctors’ GE Theatre in Schenectady last Friday night, making their Nippertown debut as the third and final concert of 2014 Party Horns NYC series. And what a party it was. They kicked off the night with sections of “Call Any Vegetable” and “Zomby Woof” (which was the connective tissue that ran through the entire concert) before stomping into “Willie the Pimp.”

And on and on they went, dashing through a sprawling 40-minute suite, taking a huge batch of the late great Frank Zappa’s already impossibly complex instrumental songs and melding them into a magnificent, mountainous medley. All without pausing to take a breath. Under the watch of the indefatigable Palermo and his hyper, two-fisted conducting, the band sliced and diced Zappa’s catalog into delirium, cutting and pasting Mothers of Invention gems into a seamless string of sizzling shards that seemed almost beyond comprehension.

Yes, it was a big band tribute to the irreverent iconoclast Frank Zappa. That’s what Palermo does, and he’s got four albums worth of stellar recordings – the latest, Oh No, Not Jazz, is a double CD, so that actually makes it five – to prove it. But there was none of the sophomoric, pee-pee-doo-doo stuff that Zappa sometimes indulged in. No, this band was focused on his vast catalog of rich, sophisticated instrumental compositions – and they performed them with an undeniable sense of playfulness and a genuine love for the material.

On his website, Palermo notes, “Let it be said that this project, the Ed Palermo Big Band in tribute to the music of Frank Zappa, is and will always be, a money-losing proposition.” Which means, of course, that it’s a labor of love. Despite the technical musical talents – and the sheer stamina – required to perform the music, it’s the love that shone through brightest at Proctors.

No mere tribute band like Dweezil’s Zappa Plays Zappa or Andre Cholmondeley’s Project/Object, this was Zappa’s music re-invented. Far from a slavish note-for-note recreation, this was one step beyond, and the results were simply dazzling…

The entire evening was a stunning balance of musical precision, passion and power. The wailing horn section – including Nippertonian Cliff Lyons on alto sax – was the heart of the band, and drummer Ross Pedersen and bassist Paul Adamy were the heartbeat. While the emphasis was on Zappa’s vast instrumental catalog – highlighted by “Wild Love,” “King Kong” and the second-set opener “Peaches en Regalia” – occasionally, guitarist Bruce McDaniel would step up to the microphone to sing – “Willie the Pimp,” the first set show-closer “Zombie Woof” and “Directly From My Heart to You.”

The Ed Palermo Big Band
The Ed Palermo Big Band

And it wasn’t all Zappa, all the time. In the middle of the first set marathon, they dropped a perfectly straight-up rendition of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me.” King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” popped up in the second set, as did a mind-boggling medley that launched with a light, airy treatment of the Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane” – featuring the captivating Katie Jaoby on her cherry-red flying-V electric violin – before making a left-hand turn into AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”

And the encore? Oh yeah. It began with a dark, ominous rendition of “She’s So Heavy” – sounding more like Beethoven than the Beatles – veered into “I Am the Walrus” (with a choreographed laugh-along segment for the audience) before evolving into a celebratory, party-time mash-up of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and Zappa’s “Electric Aunt Jemima.”

Damn, I’m still dizzy…

Call Any Vegetable (intro only)
Zomby Woof (intro only)
Willie the Pimp
Pound for a Brown (intro only)
Uncle Meat w/ Pound for a Brown (vamp for sax solo)
Yo Mama Fanfare
Rockin in Rhythm Mash-up (Duke Ellington/Frank Zappa) (includes 3 sections from Zappa’s “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”)
Janet’s Big Dance Number
Zomby Woof (intro only)
Harry, You’re a Beast
Echidna’s Art
Hello, It’s Me/Black Napkins (Todd Rundgren/Frank Zappa)
Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing
Zomby Woof (complete)
Peaches en Regalia
Wild Love
Strictly Genteel Fanfare
Directly from My Heart to You
King Kong
King Kong Insert
21st Century Schizoid Man (King Crimson)
Ladt Jane (Rolling Stones)
Burnt Weenie Sandwich
G Spot Tornado #1
Back in Black (AC/DC)
G Spot Finale
She’s So Heavy (Beatles)
I Am the Walrus (Beatles)
Zomby Woof (intro only)
You Can Call Me Al/Electric Aunt Jemima (Paul Simon/Frank Zappa)
Inca Roads Finale

Bruce McDaniel, Katie Jacoby and Ed Palermo
Bruce McDaniel, Katie Jacoby and Ed Palermo
Bruce McDaniel and Katie Jacoby
Bruce McDaniel and Katie Jacoby
Ted Kooshian
Ted Kooshian
Ross Pedersen
Ross Pedersen
1 Comment
  1. mike says

    You have worded that perfectly. Thank you.
    One of the finest musical performances this 54 year old has ever seen.
    Can’t wait till they return.

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