Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum at the Fillmore, San Francisco

Billie G Eyeball reviews the 30 July 2003 show

Gary Brooker: We have to get up early in the morning and drive to Vancouver.
Audience: Booooooo!!!!
GB: But thereís gonna be a party.
GB: But thereís no smoking.
GB: But thereís plenty of drinks.
GB (holding up a cup): Water.
GB: Plenty of women!!!!
GB: Married ...

Procol Harum didnít have to try hard to get the audience going. I kept looking at Matthew Fisher. After every song heíd put on his glasses to read the set list, or to change the parameters on his keyboards, then heíd take them off again. I couldnít believe my eyes. That was him. The guy who helped start the band so many years ago. Brooker on the left; Fisher on the right. An organ swell would rise up and youíd look this way; piano solo that way; all lean in the middle Ė Matt Pegg on bass, sweating through his heavy suit till the back of his jacket was drenched. Geoff Whitehorn all deft and tasteful and nimble, as a guitarist must be within a keyboard dominated sound. Mark Brzezicki on drums: I wondered what it felt like when he first started melding his style to that odd drum style BJ Wilson contributed to the band. BJ would hold back beats, spread them out; heíd get behind the beat, then come down right on top of it, explosive punctuation underneath swirling ascending or descending arcs of guitar, bass, and keyboard glory.

You almost donít expect to be surprised.

But you are constantly surprised.

Bringing Home the Bacon - a favorite - is the surprise opener. The surprise follow-up is Pandora's Box. The new songs from The Well's on Fire fit right in Ė The Signature, Wall Street Blues, Shadowboxed, Blink of an Eye. Whaling Stories sounds more deadly and more serious than you thought it could be given its larkish nature. Quite Rightly So is more personal, anguished and desperate than you remember it. You realize there was absolutely no reason for this band to have ever went away.

Exotic Birds and Fruit has always been, to me, the unsung Procol Harum album. Iím wondering if they will do a tune from the album. Or were they convinced by all those awful rock critics that Exotic Birds and Fruit is a mediocre work? Early on, some guy next to me was yelling for Whaling Stories. Whatís the big deal Ė they have plenty of great songs, I was thinking. Let them play what they want. But they better play something from Exotic Birds and Fruit. Once more he shouts, Whaling Stories, in that timidly loud voice, a voice holding something back, that you usually hear from guys like this at concerts. The band starts a song, and the guy looks at me, sighs, and says loudly The Idol. But Iím already jumping up and down like an idiot because itís actually Strong as Samson, and at that point it becomes a truly great concert.

Later they do Salty Dog, and I have to admit I never could follow the story line. Here it is again Ė that classic keyboard sound Ė I listen hard Ė I look at Fisher, I look at Brooker. Iím moved, but I still donít get it. These guys on the ship run 'afloat' not 'aflow,' and they kill the cook on Captain's orders, but somehow they are sailing around the world, but are so glad to reach shore, but every man is supposed to be dead, by Captainís orders. Howíd they get away? What did they do to the Captain? Is the guy that is writing the tale... Never mind. I love the tune above all reason.

Somewhere a version of My Girl pops up and itís the best rendition of a Motown classic Iíve heard in a while. Sometime later Brooker starts a Frank Sinatra lounge room teaser before the band launches into Whisky Train. We love Whisky Train not only because it rocks out, but also because it manages to incorporate a long interesting drum break without sending long lines of people to the bathroom or to the concessions for half an hour. As an encore, thereís Whiter Shade of Pale, with what sounds like some ad-libbed lyrics in the middle verse section. Show ends with Repent Walpurgis.

Gary Brooker mentions how nice Bill Graham was to them 36 or so odd years ago when they first played the Fillmore. This is how he used to introduce us, Brooker says. And in an American accent, he intones: Ladies and Gentleman. One of Englandís finest. Procol Harum.

It was true then and itís true now.

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page

Reprinted from here with the kind permission of the author, Billie G Eyeball : please visit his page

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