There's a saying you can't be too rich, too thin or too cool. While the first two may hold true, the latter no longer does.
Robert Palmer has become too cool.
At first blush, Palmer is the epitome of cool: A rock star who wears a suit and tie on stage, a rocker who can lay down a soulful dance track as natural as James Brown, a pop crooner who exudes maturity and sophistication.
But cool in Palmer's case is only a cut above boring. At least it was Wednesday night. He never spoke to the audience, he never seemed to get excited about his music, he never responded to the initial audience enthusiasm.
In effect, Palmer seemed to be playing for himself, not the 2,000 or so who showed up at Symphony Hall Wednesday night. Rather than stick to tunes even remotely familiar to his audience, he played tunes that drew upon a virtual smorgasbord of international influences.
African rhythms, bossa nova, gospel, rock, soul. You name the musical style and he probably played it at one point or another. The international flavor is reflective of Palmer's musical roots, and elements of those styles can be found in all of Palmer's hits.
Ralmer's self-indulgent forays into various musical styles was interesting for awhile, but after 30 or 40 minutes of it, even the most ardent fans were sitting back in their seats not knowing quite what to think.
A great many had their heads leaned back and their eyes closed. Meditating, I'm sure.
Not that the concert started that way. The small crowd leaped to its feet at the first strains of "Feel the Heat" and danced feverishly through the first half-dozen songs.
But as Palmer dipped deeper and deeper into a catalog of unfamiliar tunes, you could feel and see the crowd slipping away from him. And despite a spirited effort by Palmer's seven-member band, he never did quite get them back.
Not that the show didn't have it's bright spots. The gospel-tinged "Dreams to Remember" was superb, and "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" sent the crowd's energy level through the ceiling. But Palmer just couldn't maintain it.
In effect Wednesday night's concert was a study in contrasts. On one hand you had the opening act, the Northern Pikes, a relatively obscure band from Saskatchewan that worked their tails off for 30-plus minutes and won rave audience reviews for their all-out enthusiasm.
On the other hand you had Robert Palmer, the reigning prince of rock 'n' soul, who has hit records like "Addicted to Love" and "Bad Case of Loving You," millions of fans all over the world and music videos that have made him standard fare on MTV. But he put on a rather lackluster show.
The Pikes, whose sound is kind of cross between the Rolling Stones and U2, were unquestionably the best surprise of the night. You'd have expected the band's hard-edged music to grate on the older, yuppie-ish crowd. But the band's contagious enthusiasm appeared to win them a new contingent of fans.
Tunes like the "Things I Do For Money" and the acoustic "In a Lonely House" were as good as anything played by Robert Palmer.