Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Tropicana, Atlantic City, USA

John Bates for BtP • Saturday 12 June 2010

To start, since many of my comments and observations were gleaned from my vantage point, I should begin by stating that I was the first album shirt guy flying solo in the front row.

In the face of a potential tragedy and chaos onstage, only the truly great can often triumph. Such was the case last evening. Renaissance had a wonderful set with great sound and good balance between Annie and the instruments. They can close a full stage curtain here and so the anticipation and excitement can rise significantly. Then, my seven-year wait is over. We’re in a casino ballroom with gamblers and drinkers amongst the Procol faithful. What will they do? What should they play? 

Curtain up and Gary looks resplendent while the others dress simple (Matt in white t-shirt, etc.). First song, Shine on Brightly, and we have a major problem. Josh cannot coax anything from the Hammond. He’s all over it trying to find the loose wire or bad connection, all to no avail. Little Ewoks (tech crew) are running back and forth from the wings, crawling over his setup, prying into the Leslie cabinet with no success. The sound comes and goes while Josh fires the organ module from the Motif to get through.

At song’s end, the band “chat for a bit”. Gary informs the audience that they should settle in because we are going to be here for awhile. He remarks that Procol’s sound was originally built on the B3/Leslie foundation and the faithful in front laugh in the face of this pending crisis knowing Gary is buying time for the tech crew to think of something. The set moves forward as Josh makes do with the Motif and coaxes some wonderful playing from it. He finally concludes that the problem is “an old Leslie” and it’s not going to get fixed. The B3 finally returns after Josh rips the Leslie connection out only then to discover that our cheers for the return of the organ can only be heard in the house, not in the monitor mix. Gary tells him to “use your imagination” and on they go. Josh scampers to the wings over and over to try to help with the mix. Geoff soloing beautiful on stage right and Josh upset loudly in the wing on stage left. Lesser bands would whimper and stand onstage until the problem was solved (watch YouTube videos), but not our boys.

Gary is in the wonderful moment of the performance yet is dropping lyrics and repeating others. Geoff has become very important in moving the songs forward yet all the cues and gestures still come from The Commander. Gary’s voice is beginning to stretch out and the high notes again belong to him.

The set list was not one to pander to the casino crowd and included some fine blues playing and, a surprise for me, Barnyard Story. I lost it down front and kept shouting “bravo”. Robert’s Box, Cerdes, Samson, and all huge highlights for me. To be honest, it took until the majesty of Cerdes for me to be certain that, whatever happens the rest of the night, this band is so strong that all concerns shall be vanquished.

A long ninety miles back to the Trenton area with Procol blasting on the disc player. Devil, Whisky and Wee Small pushing the old van back home. Not that I missed these. As fans, casual and fervent yelled their preferences, I kept yelling even louder “play whatever you want”.

A triumph for the boys in a night that could have gone all so wrong (I thought at one moment what a four-piece would sound like). Thanks, Gary and all. Naturally my faith never wavered and you proved why we consider you one of the very best bands around. Now, on to Longwood Gardens Wednesday! 

Procol dates in 2010

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