Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum at the Fillmore, San Francisco

Jay Kinney reviews the 30 July 2003 show

I've never been to a bad Procol Harum show, but I'll admit to a certain reining-in of my expectations leading up to this concert. I'd last seen Gary Brooker as one of the performers in a Ringo's All-Starrs show in Reno, Nevada a year or two before, and while Brooker was great, the context was guaranteed to make one contemplate one's own advancing years. I hoped for a good show at the Fillmore, but I wasn't setting my hopes too high.

Picture by Roland

Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised to be blown away by Procol Harum in its 2003 incarnation. This was no mere stop in a "greatest hits" tour, but a bona fide working band performance in support of their new CD, The Well's on Fire, which I'd already bought and enjoyed.

I didn't think to take notes on the playlist, so general impressions will have to do, but what struck me most was the band's segueing between new songs and old, each delivered with a consistency of sound and style that made them all flow, one from the other. More than once I thought I was hearing a song that I couldn't quite place from their middle period, only to realize, once I got home and reviewed The Well's on Fire, that they had actually done nearly every number off the new CD.

Brooker and Fisher (and lyricist Reid) remain the core of any Procol Harum configuration, but I was happy to see the newer members, Whitehorn, Brzezicki, and Pegg, working as a tight unit of equals. Geoff Whitehorn, in particular, exuded the good-humored spirit of a chunky career British rock musician who has found a good solid niche for his talents. He's no Robin Trower, but then I always found Trower to be more Trowerish than Procol Harum called for.

The band, for my money, has always been at its best when resisting the temptation to bombast, which is why their venture with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra remains my least favorite Procol album. At this show, Whitehorn took a little while warming up, but once things kicked in, he was an ideal Procol Harum guitarist.

I have no idea how many more of these concert tours we can expect in the future. When rock musicians begin to hit their sixties, the incongruities of age vs. youth really begin to hurt. But Procol Harum was never about youth. Their best songs have always occupied a point in time that combines Bach with power chords, 19th-century British sailors with TS Eliot. Procol were postmodern before the term was ever invented, and their timeless quality guarantees that I'll seize every opportunity to see them no matter their age or mine.

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page


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