'Out-of-date Procol still weirdly attractive'
This historic review relates to the first live gig played by the New Testament Procol Harum, 23 September 1991
This is a public service announcement of the HeadbandWearing '60s Progressive Rock Musicians' Union, Local 124. With so many union members attempting comebacks over the past year and generally falling flat on their granny glasses (stand up Yes and Jethro Tull), we'd like to demonstrate a proper comeback.
Procol Harum's show last night, their first together in 21 years, could have been the kind of plodding, noodling affair most other bands slap together to celebrate their latest beer commercial. It wasn't: study their example, union members, and learn.
First, book a huge, ostentatious venue to complement your huge, ostentatious music.
Procol Harum wisely booked the Winter Garden Theatre, which has half a dozen balconies, a huge roof, and leafy growths dangling from the ceiling and two huge molded plastic oak trees, which make the whole hall look like an Italian restaurant run by the Jolly Green Giant. Empty seats in the mezzanine abounded, but Procol Harum's Fujiyamasize opuses didn't leave much space in there anyway.
Which brings us to point two: don't be afraid of the past. You've built a huge following on those classically influenced, 10-minute long mini-symphonies: don't hold back now.
Procol Harum featured a heavy selection of their older material, complete with Matthew Fisher's baroque organ fills and singer Gary Brooker's Stax soul-era wails, still huge and majestic. Damning the trendy "less is more" school of thought, the band titan-walked into Conquistador and Repent Walpurgis, laser lights whizzing and Hammond seething.
Excessive? Sure, but that's what Procol Harum's about. Those old standards seemed like ancient Atlantean artifacts – out of date, but still weirdly attractive, and Brooker and his mates didn't seem like they were about to pack them away behind a glass case. Whiter Shade Of Pale could easily have been either a maudlin nostalgia gross-out or a "Guess we better play the hit" lumber through the motions. Brooker's still-spot-on vocals ensured it was neither.
Lastly, scrap the new stuff. If the old sounded like long-lost jewels, the new sounded like Steve Winwood. Pull out the Hammond, the laser lights and the purple lyrics. It may not be current, but nothing succeeds like excess.