Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at the 'Progman' festival in Seattle

Peter Tutak for BtP

Not having seen PH since they toured to support Grand Hotel in April of ’73 at the Felt Forum in NYC (JD Souther was the opening act), I was pretty excited to learn they would be performing here in Seattle as part of this weekend’s ‘Progman’ festival of progressive music. The Alan Parsons Project was booked for the Saturday evening festival performance, and PH for the Sunday one. The concert was held in the Moore Theatre, Seattle’s venerable old concert hall, built in 1907 and surviving to this day as a venue for local theatre and touring acts. (See here for more info).

A short note: Despite living here in Seattle for 17 years, I’d never been to the Moore Theatre. A small concert hall, I was completely taken by surprise by the place. It reminded me for all the world of the Fillmore East in New York. There was the high stage proscenium, the boxes on either side (sealed up at the Moore, but at the Fillmore used to control some of the lighting and sound), the close-in edge of the first balcony (probably twenty rows back over the orchestra seats), and high above the floor, the original (but somewhat timeworn) ornate artwork, filigree and chandelier. It was like coming back to the Fillmore again. The only things that was missing was the light show, the occasional wisp of a joint …

…and the crowd. For last night’s performance (Sunday 3 August) there must have been only fifty or sixty people in the orchestra seats. I couldn’t tell how many were in the balcony. But it made for some interesting seating. Even though the seats were reserved, during the intermission, people took the time to regroup themselves into better, but vacant seats for the show. We resituated ourselves from fifth row right to twelfth row center with no problem. And it seemed there were many folks there who knew each other ... almost like this little progressive music community which had assembled to hear a pretty rare event.

I won’t go into the previous act, which was drummer Steve Smith (formerly of Journey, Jean-Luc Ponty, Information Society, etc) and a group of musicians playing fusion jazz, except to say they did a blistering version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca.

After the usual request for no smoking, no flash photography, no recording, from the promoters, Procol Harum came on at about 9:30 pm. The setlist can be read here: overall, it comprised bits representing most, if not all, of their releases. The guys played very well. Superbly, as a matter of fact, and that’s without being given to exaggeration. Gary’s voice was in excellent form, Mark’s and Geoff’s playing was strong, and Matthew’s phrasing was fine. The band was tight. But I think they were tired, too. This was the last show of the tour, Gary remarked, and courteously offered that it was great to be back in Seattle again, after such a long absence.

At one point, Gary took out one of those little unfolding calculators and put it on his Roland. Someone on stage made a comment, to which Gary remarked "6:20 am minus 8 hours" ... a reference to the time difference between the UK and Seattle. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on their part to be on their way home.

Soundwise, the mains mix left something to be desired. It buried Gary’s piano on the louder passages, and Geoff was actually down in the mix, too. But when they ratched it down a bit, like on A Salty Dog, everyone could be heard distinctly.

A couple of minor equipment issues ... Matthew looked quizzically at one of his monitors after one tune, but there were some light moments, as a result, too. Geoff Whitehorn’s amp setup (couldn’t see if he was using a wireless) was faintly picking up a local radio broadcast at the conclusion of one tune. The small crowd laughed a bit, and Gary enjoyed giving Geoff a little bit of a hard time as a result:

Gary (looking at Geoff): Can you do anything about that ?
Geoff (small smile on his face): No.
Gary: Well, at least find a religious programme. It’s Sunday, man.

Broke the crowd up.

Some highlights: Shine On Brightly was electric ... it sent chills up my back, and sounded just as it did when they used it to open their shows in 1969. Gary made a very brief, but touching dedication on The VIP Room to John Entwistle. The audience also bantered with the band. After the applause died down following a beautiful performance of The Blink of An Eye, someone in the audience called out: "Amen". Weisselklenzenacht received prolonged applause, and prompted someone else in the audience to call out: "Thank you, Matthew".

The last number was A Salty Dog, and rather than walking off stage, all of them gathered by Gary, talked for a half-minute over the applause, sat right back down, and launched into a pretty raucous version of Whisky Train. Applause. Everyone looked at Gary, Gary looked at Matthew, and counted right into A Whiter Shade of Pale.

They played the whole thing, and Gary sang his heart out. For a few minutes, despite the grey hair (on all of us) and the fact that 34 years had gone by, the music and surroundings made it seem to me like I was in the twelfth row of the Fillmore again, and my eyes welled up just a bit. At the conclusion, the small, but very appreciative crowd stood and applauded until the lights came up.

As we were walking out into the warm night, one of my companions for the show, much younger than I, and an inveterate fan of bands like Tool and Live, summed it up:

"These. Guys. Rocked."


Thanks, Pete

Procol Harum concerts in 2003: index page

 The setlist from this concert

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