Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Pordenone, Italy

Setlist • 7 October 2017

Brooker, Dunn, Pegg, Phillips, Whitehorn
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A sports stadium: the floor area, facing the stage, well-filled; the raked seating, surrounding that, sparsely peopled. Despite the monster reverb evident at soundcheck, the concert itself sounded great … kudos to Bunny Warren (who said it had been ‘hard work’).

GB in dark jacket with naval braiding round the arms.

 I Told on You
Good applause at the end of this song, which no longer sounds new … in other words it feels completely integrated with the rest of the oeuvre.

Pandora's Box

Gary Brooker’s careful offbeat piano-chord placements (beat two in the second of each pair of bars) add such a lot to this piece. Nice lights bouncing off megabushels of stage smoke. The Viscount Live emergency organ sounds OK until the cadenza, when its weak bottom end is exposed.

Band intros include ‘Josh Phyllis; el basso, Matt Pegg; sur la baterie, Geoff Dunn; guitarist superbo, Geoff Whitehorn’

Man with a Mission
What a great song; really sounds as if it’s fun to play, and perfectly suits the band’s funky 2017 style. GB’s left hand mimes ‘a handful of dust’ … he used such phatic reinforcements to illustrate many other lines in tonight’s show: ‘time for my sunshine’ … ‘my head hits the pillow’ … ‘your witness my own hand’ … ‘out of the silver screen’ … * (there's also a gesture towards Josh as he plays his own variation on the iconic Shine on Brightly organ solo)

Can't Say That
Gary explains the band has been going ‘cinque decado’. This piece has extra-long Oriental effects at both start and end. The effect is whimsical. At other times the sitar-inflected sound shadows the vocal melody. An amazing range of guitar techniques in evidence, and put to fine effect. Big contributions from Thunderclap Dunn.

As always, a guitar-change before the next song … John Magner is ready with the replacement.

Sunday Morning
‘Some people go to church … they speak to the Pope ...’

This piece seems to delight audiences everywhere it’s played, which must be a source of interest to the rather aggrieved voices on BtP’s former FaceBook group who pronounced as lightweight when it was first heard on British radio. Procol is renowned as a band that can change from a whisper to a roar, in the blink of an eardrum; but here what’s so impressive is the almost-imperceptible rise in dynamic levels from start to finish ... no sudden hits or stings or other entries, just each musician doing his gentle bit to ramp up the intensity. In the finale Gary sings ‘Domenica mattina’ in place of ‘Sunday morning’.

GB thanks the audience: ‘It makes us feel very good to feel that warmth.’

As Strong as Samson
GB’s characteristic intro to this song, about how the words are just as meaningful now as they were in the 1970s, concludes with an catalogue of modern-day faults and follies … ‘and we’ve still got Trump in the White House!’. No response. ‘Trump!’ (shouted, no response). Again, ‘TRUMP!’ (Nothing). And the song begins.

Drums superb, melodic fills on bass; the Lilliputian organ sounds OK in this context. Samson, which had been the least-compelling of Milan’s performances, got six stars out of five from this reviewer on this occasion. BtP asked the band if this variation had a cause? ‘All comes down from the top,’ said a source close to Pocahontas.

Business Man
Last night I thought Gary Brooker was playing air guitar. Sorry to have misled: I think it was probably air bass, as it certainly was this evening. Notable Caribbean craziness on the drums in verse three; GW’s harmony voice very effective also.

‘Roma tomorrow, then … Northern Beirut …’ said GB as part of the prelude to the next song

A Salty Dog
It’s impressive how Gary Brooker shares a great actor’s knack of implying that he’s truly inside any lyric he sings. Tonight’s inflection of ‘I heard the captain cry’ managed to suggest that he had a specific captain, fondly remembered, in mind. This is not a lead vocalist going through the motions, even though it must be one of the songs he’s sung most frequently in his long career. And we’ve heard it so many times! Nevertheless the elusive oddity of its nautical narrative remains.

I always enjoy GW’s climbing phrases in crotchet triplets towards the end; they seem always to have been part of the band-only orchestration of this wonderful piece.

Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)
No bugles on tonight’s piano; jazzy inflections from the Viscount Live in part two of its solo, and Beethovenesque poundings from the piano in its solo. Whoops of glee from the audience, almost as if Matilde had been present!

Last Chance Motel
No patter about Country and Western now. Maybe it’s surprising that there’s no patter about ‘mote;’ and ‘hotel’ (along the lines of, ‘this is one from our trilogy of songs about wayside lodging establishments’ or similar.

The triplet fills in the guitar suggest to these ears that the song is gradually moving away from its country roots, though the BVs still evoke The Jordanaires.

Big applause.

GB swigs his water, and gasps, ‘Dammit, John, that’s a grappa.’ Then he takes another quasi-covert swig for good measure, and comic effect. ‘That’s put me back in time …’

Watching GW strike his third-beat chords, I’m impressed by the way the brain in his left hand (there must be a spare there … it’s the only explanation) immediately forms the following chord, even though it won’t be sounded for four beats. Also I notice that he’s no longer playing, so obviously, the little favourite lick that we used to hear joining verses to choruses (and which we later heard in The Only One). At the end of the song he shifts upstage, standing almost at GB’s left hand in order to coordinate the final few non-metrical notes perfectly.


Shine on Brightly

Large applause for this fine piece! GB sings ‘Il tuo diamante’ of course. Some nimble and inventive bass, latterly. The organ sounds a bit swampy in the repeated notes (as at the opening), but pretty good in the solo. Lighting very suitable for this song.

GB explains the envy gradient to tonight’s audience in terms of ‘Your neighbour has a bambino who plays basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters, and you’ve got a little kid with glasses.’ The song goes really well, and ‘come on, one more!’ exhorts the band to go round again – more Hornpipe in the organ melee -- before the resounding final chord.

Grand Hotel
I hear ‘scandal-light and chandelier’ … and why not? ‘Profiteroles!’ is declaimed like a call to arms. Finesse and fun in the instrumental sections, and funny footwork from MP and GW, as they sidle from spot to spot … but always listening and watching. Grand Hotel  played with great affection and attention to detail … the coordinated head-movements of the backing vocalists on ‘Ritz … ah’ being just one tiny example.

After this number, during the applause, a vestigial return to the circus-waltz ascent, on a few instruments … fizzling, like an afterbirth.

Dedicated to ‘Our friends form Catalonia … hope they get what they want!’ and punctuated, at the outside, with a cry of ‘Hasta la vista!’, perhaps to imply that this wasn’t the last song of the evening … though it was attacked with pretty terminal panache. GB turns and leans out towards the audience, as in the earliest times, as though the song is embedded in the musculature of the torso in addition to that of the hands. Great solo from JP, though I get the impression that the tone of this substitute organ is a bit variable, up and down the gamut. We’re hoping it won’t be used again. Extended trumpet twiddles at the end … with piano response … then trumpet again. Tremendous.

Band intros, again' Josh Phyllis' … and GW is introduced as ‘guitar tenore’, which is unusually pedantic.

The Only One
Procol has several ballads, says Gary, and ‘the ones that last are the ones that touch down to your heart.’ Agreed about the durability of this piece; but it seems quite cerebral to me, as the listener has to find some way of coming to terms with an entity declaring that it doesn’t exist. This is different from Dead Man’s Dream or See to Have the Blues (Most All of the Time) whose narrators, though dead, have been alive in some appreciable way in former times.

Tonight’s accompaniment is back to normal, not tinged with e-piano sounds. In verse two the vocal reverb suddenly seemed a bit threatening, but the singing – from The Pordenone One -- was superb, and the fretmen were in fine fettle to boot. Geoff Dunn ended the piece with cymbal knocks to the very edges … an excellent effect.

In a surge of adulation the crowd now quit their seats and pressed towards the band, phones akimbo. As GB put it afterwards, ‘That was a scary moment when those men rushed the stage’ though we agreed that there was one female presence among them.

We’ll be back, promised Gary, in English this time.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
High in the stadium seating a lone phonelight swung to and fro, like The Dong with a Luminous Nose. The crowd was all smiling in delight, in contrast to the joyless demeanour of much of the venue staff … and that of the three different flavours of police who had been a constant presence in the foyer (and, as the illustration shows,  in the interval, sole occupants of the balcony, for all the world as if they were expecting to hear I am the Walrus and wanted to replicate the famous ‘pretty little policemen in a row’ scene from the Magical Mystery Tour movie.)

The crowd shouted out ‘more’ in the appropriate place in verse one. How long before we start bellowing ‘be’ at the same spot in the second verse?

Concert ended 23.15. A great show. As I finish typing this, the PH tour bus passes the city boundary and we’re all in Rome.
If there are typos and non-sequiturs, and if the pictures don't fit properly, please excuse the author, who had many distractions to contend with.

Learn to Fly (instrumental)
The Wind Cries Mary (instrumental)
The Blink of an Eye
Simple Sister (fragment)
Piano: hybrid intro of Homburg and Grand Hotel
in full. Colossal reverb of hall!
I Told on You

Josh Phillips quickly accustoming himself to an emergency Viscount Hammond clone, that sounded OK through the Leslie 3300,
but had a somewhat unsatisfactory action and feel (and looked a bit like a tiny barbecue, designed by Bontempi ... see illustration)


17 songs altogether: 1 From Procol Harum 1 from Shine on Brightly
1 From A Salty Dog   From Home   from Broken Barricades
2 From Grand Hotel 1 From Exotic Birds and Fruit 1 from Procol's Ninth
  From Something Magic 1 From The Prodigal Stranger   from The Well's on Fire
7 From Novum 2 non-album tracks Exciting show, despite an unpromising sports hall location. Such a nice, warm audience, with the exception of one fellow who, disgruntled at finding no tee-shirts for sale, gripped hold of one webmaster's ear and hectored him in Italian, a language he doesn't profess. Read this, my friend: "In realtà avevo una maglietta, la misura che volevi, nella borsa ... che avrei offerto a te, se avessi comportato in modo più civile e meno ridicolo".


Procol dates in 2017 | Booking

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