If you can remember where you were and what you were doing when Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale hit the airways, then you are true rock-and-roll devotee. It took me some time to get into this song’s symbolism (maybe psychedelic substances might have helped), played over what appeared to be a reworking of a JS Bach number. Once into the PH scene, I played nearly everything they subsequently recorded. Procol Harum: Live at the Union Chapel, is a document of their 2003 world tour of the reformed group, combining original and new members. Fear not, the play list includes most of your PH favorites, along with some lesser known but meritorious numbers. The film captures the group’s energy, still going strong after nearly four decades, and their terrific musicianship (new artists pay attention!). Both audio and video recording are excellent making this a memorable and treasurable experience.
The film, with the occasional exception of the deliberately grainy sepia shots of the crew, has excellent detail and color palette. The camera work is beyond reproach, offering a good mix of pans and close ups. The venue is dark and the contrast is provided by mostly blue “mood” lights. Video recording quality has gradually improved since 2003, but in this case, it is mostly good enough for sustained viewing enjoyment.
Of the three soundtrack options, PCM 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, go for the latter if your processor or receiver supports it. Procol Harum was one of the first dual keyboard bands and its piano and Hammond B-3 organ are both well treated. Bass is thunk-wonderful; Geoff Whitehorn’s lead guitar literally sings. Vocals are prominent, probably a result of the mixing board, but you will not miss any of the lyrics. Hall effects are well handled in the surround channels giving a real “you-are-there” sensation.
There is a mildly interesting interview with Procol Harum founder and leader Gary Brooker. Otherwise, the addition of setting up montages and bar comments are pretty underwhelming.
Whether you are new to Procul [sic] Harum or have been a fan since the ‘60’s, Procul [sic] Harum: Live at the Union Chapel will bring two hours of viewing and listening enjoyment into your home theater. In cut after cut, I was impressed by the musical tightness of this band, a reflection of the high quality of the players, and their obvious affinity for each other. The inventiveness of the songs and the smooth transitions between blues-based, classic rock, and classical music themes bear testimony to Brooker’s genius which was still burning brightly at the filming of this concert. It is hard to pick favorites, but for me, A Salty Dog, Grand Hotel and Conquistador hit it out of the proverbial park. Of course, the Procol Harum true believers will have to get their Whiter Shade of Pale fix and, do they ever get it — the rarely heard long uncut version! The graininess of some of the video, mostly intentional, may be a questionable directorial decision. Fortunately, it is clearly outweighed by the excellence of the straightforward videography captured here. Cheers to the audio engineers who appreciated the need for lossless recording which Procol Harum’s music richly deserves. Run, don’t walk, to your Blu-ray store, and get this one before it goes to video heaven. It was worth the eight year wait.
Gary Brooker, Geoff Whitehorn, Matt Pegg (and an interloping webmaster-reflection in the Plexiglas drum-baffle)
Brooker, Whitehorn and George W Bush mannequin
Mark Brzezicki on drums
Long shot of the band
Matthew Fisher, Hammond organ
Usual suspects Jens, Don, One-Eye, Ken., Jill, Peter, Dave, Roland and Linda watching Pegg and Whitehorn and Fisher
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