Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum in New York

Alan Semok reports

Alan Semok writes to BtP (May 2003):

What a weekend this has been!

I wasn't fortunate enough to be in attendance at any of the shows and Paler gatherings in the UK in recent years, living in hope that either the opportunity would present itself in the future or hoping against hope that the band would visit our shores again, last having appeared here in 1995.

Like every other fan, I looked forward to the band's short East Coast tour with great anticipation and they certainly did not disappoint ... each of the four New York City area shows seemed to top the one before, and Sunday evening's sold-out show at the Bottom Line in NYC was a fitting and glorious end for the band's all-too-brief sojourn to this side of the Atlantic. All shows were great, but Sunday evening's show was without question the tightest and highest energy show of the weekend.

New York sure does love Procol Harum (it always has, from the earliest days), and the reception the band received this entire weekend was nothing short of ecstatic, with multiple standing ovations being the order of the day. The feeling in the audience was very much that of the return of an old friend, with many, many comments about how tight the band sounded ... I heartily concur. Fortunately, they were very much supported by a pristine sound system and a perfect mix. Experiencing the band in these more intimate venues in itself was a revelation, as the camaraderie and finely tuned interplay between the bandmates becomes even more apparent.

I even overheard (ok ... I was sue me ...) a conversation between the somewhat hard-nosed club owner and a party at one of the VIP tables; he was expressing in absolutely glowing terms how the Procol shows had surpassed his expectations, not only in the response to the shows but perhaps more importantly, with regard to the quality of the shows. So Procol Harum once again lived up to its thirty-six year reputation of being one of the tightest and most polished live acts in rock music.

During the course of the 21-song show, we were of course treated to more wonderfully riddle-like song intros by the Commander, including a surprising "tip of the Homburg" to Robin Trower for writing Whisky Train. Even the memory of BJ Wilson now seems to occupy a happier place thirteen years after his sad passing, with a humorous story leading into an intro of Beyond the Pale. Some hearts skipped a beat when the lights faded to a moody pastel, a chord began to drone, and we heard what seemed to be the beginning of a rendition of In Held 'Twas In I ... only to trail off, lights coming up, and Gary saying "we can't do that one because if we do, we'll miss the last bus out." He then relented somewhat saying "we'll do an excerpt if you promise to participate." With that promise made, the band launched into a rousing 'Twas Teatime at the Circus. A nice surprise!

Even A Salty Dog was not exempt from the atmosphere of fun this the final verse of the band's stirring rendition of that classic, we were all surprised to see an explosion of feathers filling the air as Mark's drums punctuated the line "...we fired the gun..." to the obvious surprise of the band members. Gary's subsequent eulogy in honor of the victim of that gunshot, one "Donald Seagull", was Brooker at his tongue-in-cheek best. Lest you think otherwise, the majesty and passion of this great song was in no way diluted by this bit of fun. Sunday night's rendition received one of the several standing ovations of the evening.

A special mention during the course of the show was an appreciation of Jens and Roland's fine work on 'Beyond the Pale'. Indeed, in conversations with various people intimately involved with the band, the effectiveness of the website in promoting the efforts of the band was duly noted and much appreciated. Casual conversations with other people in attendance revealed that many did not know of the New York area shows until nearly the last minute, but upon hearing of the shows they did web searches which led them to 'Beyond the Pale', and that they would certainly be regular visitors now in hopes of getting an inside track to future North American visits by the band.

Gary also noted the fact that the 36th anniversary of A Whiter Shade of Pale was upon us, as well as the anniversary of the final "Old Testament" gig in 1977. His words were something to the effect that they "didn't really plan it that way, but after the show we all looked at each other and basically said ...well that's it then, isn't it? it seems that we played our farewell tour and didn't even know it..."

All in all, Sunday's show was a very satisfying and energetic end to the band's sold-out tour... I was looking forward to a great weekend of music, and my expectations were surpassed. And of course, all of us stateside hope that "still there'll be more" !

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page


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