Two factors made this rare Procol Harum apparition solider than the recently veneered Doors: original singer, new material. The gods of storm also conjured an appropriate atmosphere, releasing celestial flash and splash on our unprotected pates after pianist/vocalist Gary Brooker, organist Matthew Fisher and friends had tiptoed around the normally fierce Bringing Home the Bacon and cracked open the creepy Pandora’s Box. Following an enforced 40-minute retreat, however, Procol charged into their most bombastic epic, Whaling Stories ('Lightning struck out fire and brimstone'), rivaling the Olympians for power and glory.
Then came many demonstrations of the essentialist art and craft that made Procol Harum the best classically influenced rock outfit of the 60s and 70s: the kingly pace and Keith Reid poetry of Homburg; Brooker’s transcendent wail on the soul-abandoned A Salty Dog; the pounding, leaping balladry of As Strong as Samson" with a beautifully filigreed guitar solo from bushy beanpole Geoff Whitehorn. Simple Sister’s heavy lurch could coalesce only via the possessed scatter-thumping of the late BJ Wilson, so if drummer Mark Brzezicki didn’t drive it, he need not shroud.
Some of the hottest sparks, though, were struck from Procol’s new The Well’s on Fire. The VIP Room boosted Brooker into his rudest-ever R&B belt. If you wondered where this band had been, Shadow Boxed, with its hooky changes, slingshot bridge and marimba-synth touches, rocked the story in classic fashion. And the sight of white-haired Brooker and bookworm-bent Fisher trading keyboard passes on Fisher’s swelling, radiant instrumental Weisselklenzenacht – well, it made you think dignity might be okay again.
A perfectly splendid A Whiter Shade of Pale concluded to the accompaniment of resumed pyrotechnics in the eastern sky, and the band bowed off, anointed by rain spatters as dry leaves swirled around them in a warm rising wind. How’d they do that?