Procol Harum: Beyond the 'Pale'
If there's an upside to the stock market slump, it's that veteran rock-and-rollers can't depend on their portfolios anymore. They have to get back into the studio and on the road. At least that's what Gary Brooker, founding member of Procol Harum, suggested Tuesday night at the Birchmere by way of introducing the song Wall Street Blues. It's a song from The Well's on Fire, the first collection of new Procol Harum material since 1991, but the group doesn't seem to be doing it just for the money.
Wall Street Blues is a terrific song, with equal parts blues piano, rock beat and heavy metal guitar. As the night went on it was clear that Procol Harum, which formed in England some 36 years ago, has picked up where it left off in 1967, when the band's signature song, A Whiter Shade of Pale, was released. The new material confirmed that the band's skills are intact, but with the arty prog-rock tendencies happily displaced by flat-out rock-and-roll.
Brooker brought classical influences to his piano playing, and Matthew Fisher, also an original band member, played those huge, church-size riffs on his Hammond B-3 organ that are the hallmark of the Harum. Guitarist Geoff Whitehorn (late of Bad Company) added metallic flash to his solos, while the rhythm section of drummer Mark Brzezicki and bassist Matt Pegg, whose father is Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg, provided an arena-rock beat.
The feared bombast was in short supply, even on the thematically heavy Conquistador, Simple Sister and A Whiter Shade of Pale, which closed the encore. Clearly Procol Harum is comfortable as a "classic rock" staple, but it's not about to rest on its laurels, or its investments.