Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum in LA

Mike Boehm in the LA Times, 20 September 1993

Los Angeles Times 20 September 1993, Monday: Orange County Edition

Pop Music Review: Tull Still Has the Moves If Not the Voice
The British band puts on a dynamic and dramatic show at Irvine Meadows. But leader Ian Anderson's vocals have considerably diminished with the passage of time.

'Age isn't everything: Age is (expletive) nothing at all,' Ian Anderson mused defiantly during a pause in the proceedings as Jethro Tull brought its 20th Anniversary Tour to Irvine Meadows on Saturday night. At 46, the British band's leader remains enough of a showman to almost have backed up those words [long JT review follows] ... As another balding Brit, Pete Townshend, sang when he was still a whippersnapper in his mid-30s, 'Can't pretend that growing older never hurts.'

It doesn't always hurt. In any case, it hasn't hurt Procol Harum's Gary Brooker, whose voice was buzzing through rock fans' heads a year before anybody had heard of Jethro Tull. Fronting the reconstituted Procol Harum during its opening set, Brooker's rich, expansive, soulful voice sounded as glorious as ever.

The acid test was A Whiter Shade of Pale, the vocally demanding recasting of a Bach composition that launched the band in 1967. Brooker aced that one, and gave thrilling performances of two other high-drama, voice-stretching nuggets from the band's peak period, A Salty Dog and Conquistador. With his broad, craggy face and his whitening hair swept back in a ponytail, Brooker looked a bit like Marlon Brando circa Last Tango in Paris.

Of course, Procol Harum prefers to dance the light fandango. It also preferred not to be anchored solely in the past. Of the nine songs in its 55-minute set, three were from The Prodigal Stranger, the album that marked the band's comeback in 1991 after a 14-year hiatus. A fourth was a new, as-yet unrecorded piece.

The Stranger stuff is too prosaic, lacking the sense of mystery and the swirling combination of musical elements that marked Procol at its peak (legend has it that the band was named after somebody's cat, which in turn was named after a Latin phrase meaning 'beyond these things').

However, the current lineup is potent and played both old and new stuff beautifully. Organist Matthew Fisher, the only other holdover from the band's glory days, may have looked as solemn as a church organist but he managed some wailing, R&B-inspired licks along with the stately classical passages (Procol Harum always was a band with one ear on Bach and the other tuned to Marvin Gaye).

Ian Wallace, a veteran session drummer, and bassist Mathew Pegg, the long-haired son of a hairless Tull member, were a hard-hitting foundation that kept those stately numbers from slogging. Newcomer Jeff [sic] Whitehorn supplied razory guitar lines that only occasionally veered a tad too close to Eddie Van Halen-inspired shrieky intonations.

On The Prodigal Stranger album, Procol Harum sometimes seems to be trying to copy the polished current styles of Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton, old contemporaries who had managed to sustain success into the late '80s and early '90s. The show's new composition, The Last Train to Niagara, pointed in a better direction. Though not as striking as the classics played in a very well-received set, it had that old sense of a band exploring mysteries and taking a journey into the unknown.

As far as performance goes, age really does have nothing to do with it in Procol Harum's case. Whether the band has a future depends on its ability to further rekindle the songwriting spark that carried it in the late 60s and early 70s.

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