All my life I have been deeply moved by the music of Procol Harum.
Being a piano player myself, and a trombonist, a band that featured two keyboards, and sometimes orchestral leanings, was too much for me to ignore. The integration of superb rock guitarists, the awesomely beautiful melodic writing from Gary Brooker, and the touching and strangely beautiful lyrics from Keith Reid have made me a fan forever.
Procol had faded from my life in the late 70s and 80s as they had faded from the music business as well themselves, but I remember exactly where I was in 1991 when I heard the voice that touched me so strongly for so many times in my life, and it had come back to get me again, when I picked up a copy of The Prodigal Stranger. I was at the time commuting from Havertown PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, to my store in NY City, and the ride that great day was made so easy from the pleasure I received in hearing Procol once again on that CD.
Nothing is better than having an old friend come back into your life and that's how I felt that day. I enjoyed the CD for a long time but again Procol faded from my life until The Well's on Fire was released in 1993, and it motivated me to seek out Procol whenever they toured the US. I was lucky enough to see them at the Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon PA. I remember an absurd rotating stage, but a great show and I felt lucky Procol was still around.
The Sun Center in Aston PA is a working movie studio that the owners decided would be a good place for a series of summer concerts, and they were very correct. A nice stage, a large collection of folding chairs, and you've got a show with great sight lines, and what should have been excellent sound but unfortunately the mix was wrong for most of the show, and the audio was plagued by occasional feedback throughout the evening, a surprising negative to a Procol performance that was however quite excellent.
I had opened for them in Harrisburg PA on the last tour and had felt a little like they had phoned it in a tad, but this night in Aston I felt that the band was fantastic. Brooker was in fine voice, Josh Phillips was absolutely inspired on Hammond, and his synth work -- creating strings and horn sounds for the various tunes -- was absolutely superb this night. Matt Pegg gave his usual superb performance on bass, Geoff Whitehorn never ceases to amaze with his incredible leads, and his attention to detail, and his great sense of humor as well. And Geoff Dunn was especially strong all evening, with a fabulous drum solo in Whisky Train. To be lucky enough to get both Whisky Train and Simple Sister one after the other, and to also be honored with the spectacularly beautiful Whaling Stories, was enough to make my night as they were all fantastic.
If anything most of the songs were a bit on the slow side this evening, which for me is a bonus as the Procol songs sound much better to me that way rather than feeling a bit rushed. Shine on Brightly and A Salty Dog were their usual excellent and beautiful renditions, Homburg always pleases, and overall the set was great, too short as always, and they encored with Grand Hotel, Pandora's Box and Conquistador.
I love the current lineup of Procol because the band members clearly seem to love the music, but most importantly, they have no qualms about playing the significant parts of the songs exactly as they were played and written by the original members, so many years ago, yet they instill their own originality into the songs as well, giving them all great life. To hear Gary Brooker's voice in such fine form for so many years is a joy that cannot be measured. If I have any complaints at all, it is that the shows are too short and I'd like to hear some more obscure tunes as their large body of work has not often been reflected in their set lists over the years.
Overall it was another great show in front of a decent 75% sold-out venue, a night that made my life better once again through the beauty and majesty of the music of Procol Harum. The current band lineup which has been stable for many many years, does the music great justice and I look forward to many more years of the pleasure from these songs.
My heart was broken this year when Procol was not voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A total sham and farce as who could be more deserving of this honor than they? The sound at this show was quite a mystery to me though ... The mix was rather sloppy ... Gary's voice often not loud enough, organ was often too loud, and feedback could be heard though out the evening..a totally unacceptable performance from the sound company tonight. I am glad to say the band overcame these difficulties with an excellent performance nevertheless!
The opener, Carl Palmer is a fabulous drummer from the old Emerson Lake and Palmer days. His trio was very well received and they played their form of progressive rock quite well. I do feel though, that like Yes on the previous tour, the promoters continue to mis-match the shows they put Procol on. For some reason they must see Procol in a similar vein to these progressive rock groups but that just tells me they aren't really listening to the music these days. Procol is a band that plays beautiful songs ... not progressive rock pieces ... they would be much better suited to tour with the likes of people like Tom Petty, or ELO ... people like that who also are known for their great tunes.
Well that's it for now ... Another great evening of Gary Brooker and the music of Procol Harum. A lifelong love, that grows with each day passing, and each wonderful show, showing us all how beautiful life can be through the touching and creative spirit that is the music of Procol Harum.
Procol dates in 2014 | Setlist