British singer Robert Palmer, who opened a two-night engagement Wednesday at the Universal Amphitheatre, still looks more like a haughty GQ cover boy than rock ‘n’ roller. With his sophisticated manner and immaculately tailored suits, he comes across as an aristocratic playboy who’s slumming among the sloven rock crowd.
Palmer has never seemed at home singing blues or rowdy rock. He’s a reserved, not particularly graceful performer, his moves consisting mostly of a clumsy little shuffle. On stage, he doesn’t say much either.
What’s amazing is that, in spite of his aloofness and his economical performing style, he still connects with his audience. His 90-minute show was outstanding--a triumph of exceptional material and his coolly gritty, gently soulful vocal style.
Supported by his excellent sextet and first-rate female back-up singer B.J. Nelson, Palmer began and ended the show rousingly with the pop-rock-funk pieces, such as “Simply Irresistible” and “Addicted to Love,” that have made him an international best-seller in recent years.
The middle of the show, however, was filled with the quirky tunes, some featuring Caribbean and African rhythms, that dominated his repertoire in his pre-pop star days. Some of the songs, though offbeat gems, obviously tried the patience of his audience, which is geared to his easily accessible pop material.
In that middle section, Palmer even turned ‘40s crooner on some tunes, lapsing into a soft, sleek Nat-Cole style. That was the only time his debonair persona and the material seemed to mesh. Those few songs were the highlight of the show.