Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum at the Bottom Line, 9 May 2003

Jesse Jacobsen

This appreciative review, by a young journalist, appeared in the Staten Island Advance on 1 June 2003: it is reproduced here by kind permission.

'One hit' band lasts through the decades
With the familiar voice of Gary Brooker, the 70s band Procol Harum keeps it fresh with new music

The reunion of the energetic and timeless Rolling Stones for a world tour is one of the better known reunions of bands that have been around for thirty or forty years, but some lesser known bands are also out there.

Perhaps not all of the original members are in the band (or are among the living), but its worthwhile to attend a live performance to experience the meaning of "classic" when it comes to rock bands. One such band is Procol Harum, who performed at the Bottom Line recently.

Formed in 1966, Procol Harum was an originator of the "classical rock" bands of the 70s. Classical or progressive rock bands combined the standard rock set-up with orchestration and elements of European classical music.

Lead by pianist/vocalist Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fisher, Harum's biggest hit was the organ-driven A Whiter Shade of Pale. Following the departure of Fisher in 1970 after three albums, the band became more blues-rock oriented, featuring the skills of guitarist Robin Trower.

Although they never matched the success of A Whiter Shade of Pale, various lineups of the band were active through the late 70s. The band reunited in '91 for a tour supporting the album, The Prodigal Stranger. Then they were not heard from [sic!] until earlier this year, with the release of a new album The Well's on Fire.

Most groups who get back together to perform feature mainly their older, more familiar work. Procol Harum, however, played a significant number of songs from the new album as well as some classics. My favorites included Shine On Brightly, Homburg, Simple Sister, and the rollicking Piggy Pig Pig.

Only Brooker and Fisher remain from the original lineup, but the members that round out the group now, both on the album and on stage, have helped the band retain its signature sound. This is partly due to the ability of the newer members, but it is also thanks to Brooker's voice sounding just as good, if not better, than it did thirty years ago.

One of the things that made the concert so enjoyable was the intimacy of the Bottom Line. The small club has seats all the way up to the stage. Although I had to peer around Matthew Fisher to see the rest of the band, it was great to be right up near these legends.

None of the music was lost as it sometimes is in larger venues. The setting was ideal for a band that relies on melodic keyboard and organ lines.

As expected, they played A Whiter Shade of Pale. However Harum kept the crowd waiting for this one, playing it as an encore, after leaving the stage for several minutes.

They turned out an excellent rendition of the recognizable song, managing to keep the song fresh over the years. This performance featured an extra verse only used live and a lot of improvisation on the lead organ line. It was an appropriate end to an enjoyable evening courtesy of one of rock's most enduring bands.

Jesse Jacobsen is a FL!P correspondent for The Staten Island Advance. He may be reached at

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page


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