ON THE TOWN: Joe Ely didn't draw a big crowd at the Palace last weekend, but the good news was that the honky-tonk hero was in rare form, accompanied by a powerhouse band that included the legendary Bobby Keyes on saxophone. Ely showed off a host of new material, including a raucous rocker ("Drivin' to the Poorhouse"), a mournful ballad ("Dig for Love") and a couple of inspiring covers, namely John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over the World" and Dion's (!) "The Wanderer." All of those songs are slated to be on Ely's next album--which is already completed--but the bad news is that Ely's future with longtime label MCA Records is in considerable doubt. If the Palace show was designed as a showcase for Ely's talents, let's hope the talent scouts heard how the house was rockin'. . . . Speaking of fireworks, you can expect some excitement at the upcoming Music Business Symposium, which begins Friday (running to May 4) at the Ambassador Hotel. Co-presented by BAM magazine, the conference will feature a Friday keynote address by Arista president Clive Davis; a Saturday presentation, "The Anatomy of a Sound Track," featuring film-maker John Hughes; an A&R meeting that includes an appearance by rock impresario Malcolm McLaren, and a Sunday panel discussion on independent promotion that will include Ralph Tashjian, a staffer from controversial top-level independent promoter Joe Isgro's firm. The symposium will also offer a free-admission meeting, Friday at 7:15 p.m., of L.A. Women in Music, a new support and service organization. For more information, phone (213) 273-1951.