Beyond the Pale
A wee bit weak on subtlety?
Jim Speer writes to BtP (July 2003)
It is May 7, 2003, and I have just returned from the PH show at the TLA, Philadelphia. On the whole, it was a very, very good concert, enthusiastically and appreciatively received. Parts of the show delved into the territory of sheer greatness while other parts fell a bit short. I will elaborate now.
Perhaps obviously, the band is strongest on the material from The Well's On Fire. Robe of Silk and Old English Dream came off particularly tightly. Shadow Boxed was another show-stopper, a number the band obviously enjoys playing, particularly that rejoining guitar/bass riff. Also beautifully executed was the night's rousing closer: Weisselklenzenacht. Unfortunately, this familiarity also served to demonstrate the band's comparative lack of familiarity with other elements of their set. I truly appreciated hearing Grand Hotel and Pandora's Box, for instance, though the band seemed less comfortable with songs such as these, and they seemed to drag the tempo a bit in places.
If the webmaster jumps in here and lets us all know that Pandora's Box is commonly played nowadays, let it here be known that my only other PH show was at the Tower, Philly, in the fall of 1991, a show which completely blew the roof off the joint, and left half the audience in stunned silence, and the other half sobbing. Unfortunately, this is the way-high live show standard the band has set for this fan.
As it is, the current lineup is a wee bit weak on subtlety. They do well on the big grand-blast moments we treasure so much, but comparatively less well on the understated tension and gradual build we would appreciate as Rock Fans of Refined Taste. The subtleties are some of the bits that make PH stand out from the usual classic rock crowd.
A word about the night's mix: you guys really don't need to crank up the booms and thuds, there. What happened to discretion and nuance in live music? particularly with a band like PH, this really interferes with my enjoyment.
Head scratcher of the night: why rock up Strong As Samson? I could have done with hearing the original arrangement. Perhaps the song is a bit too topical right now, and not a very optimistically topical song at that.
I loved that the band dug deeply into the repertoire to surprise and delight me over and over (though I now see that I could have spoiled my surprises by consulting the recent set logs on the web) I was absolutely thrilled to hear Piggy Pig Pig, delivered masterfully by the band -- for me the high point of the night. When I left the theater it was, appropriately, cool and raining, most conducive to singing to one's self back to the car: "God's aloft, the winds are raging."
Having mentioned Piggy Pig Pig, it can now not go without mention that Gary's voice is in fine, fine shape! He hits all those high notes long and hard, without a hint of strain or tire. When we finally got to Salty Dog at the first encore, you bet he was right up there where we wanted him.
I fear I have overly-dwelled [sic]on the negative, but if so it is only that Procol Harum bear and well live up to their high reputation and standards. Of course they were and will continue to be absolutely wonderful, easily better than 99% of the bands playing out there today. May they live long(er) and prosper, with many more CDs and shows to come. I look forward to my next Procol show, on another rainy night in Philly.