There were enough people at the Procol Harum concert Wednesday night to fill the Music Hall. Almost.
Unfortunately, the British band, along with Poco and Golden Earring played in the cavernous Coliseum and that was the first mistake of many during what became a five-hour show.
It all started on the wrong foot with Golden Earring, a hard rock band from Holland following closely on Focusí footsteps in trying to win an audience in America. But unlike Focus, with its distinct classical and jazz roots, Earring is more commercially patterned after already established rocks [sic] bands, specifically Who [sic] and Jethro Tull. The band lays down a solid rock'n roll beat, but falls short of embellishing it with anything more than worn-out theatrics.
The band is good at attracting attention, but needs a little practice in keeping it.
Poco, leaderless since Richey Furay left the group, came on with their usual enthusiastic country rock to a healthy spattering of applause.
This is the first time Poco has played Houston since leader and co-founder Furay (of Buffalo Springfield fame) left the group. Oddly enough, heís hardly missed. The focus of the band now falls, happily on steel guitarist Rusty Young.
Young is probably the best steel player in rock music today. Heís come up front now, playing the usually laid back instrument as animatedly as possible Ė often kicking back his chair and scraping it on the strings or, finally tipping the instrument over and playing it on its side at the edge of the stage. But all as precisely and excitingly as ever.
Pocoís main problem, though, is a lack of material solid enough to sink teeth into. Significantly their most well-received songs were all over five years old. That doesnít mean the band is five years ahead of its time, but rather that it peaked some time ago and is living on momentum.
Procol Harum carries a similar albatross around its neck, but has learned how to live with it.
Seven years ago they had a hit with A Whiter Shade of Pale and have enjoyed a loyal, if not fast-growing, popularity ever since.
But a lot of Procolís appeal is in Keith Reidís lyrics, some of the most intelligent (and sometimes the most pretentious) poetry happening in popular music.
Pianist-singer Gary Brooker moulds Reidís words into arrangements that literally soar with feeling. In A Salty Dog he sings an allegorical narrative while the music paints the pictures.
But all too often such lyrics were lost Wednesday in the acoustics of the Coliseum.
And Brooker, hidden behind his massive grand piano, with his tousled hair dripping sweat, might as well have been singing in the shower.
Hopefully, next year (Procolís visits have become annual events) the group will find itself in a more accommodating setting for what can be strikingly beautiful music.
(thanks, Jill, for the typing)