Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum in concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall

Westchester County, NY • 10 June 2010 • Bert Saraco for BtP

Bert Saraco reviewed this show once for 'Beyond the Pale' and once for the non-Procoholic public at 'The Phantom Tollbooth' (see here)

Of course, Procol Harum conquered Tarrytown.

Palers, Whalers, Beanstalkers and the like began flooding into town by mid-afternoon. Fans from all points: New York, Florida, Norway..... Norway?! Yes, the band has quite a following.

Assuming we'd be among the earliest to arrive (what were we thinking?!), the Lovely Carina and I found the quaint, historic, just-right-for-Procol Tarrytown Music Hall already besieged by  Beanstalk regulars who would catch the PH sparkle in our eyes and introduce themselves by real name and/or online pseudonym (“Hi! I'm Walpurgis Walter!”).

Yes, we all felt like little groupies and fan-boys, leaning our ears against the side doors of the venue excitedly identifying what songs were being played at the closed-door sound check. Apparently, Procol Harum is able to turn back time for a lot of us. And speaking of time, it wasn't too long before the first actual band member appeared: Josh Phillips exited the venue to go back into a shop where he had just bought a watch that, apparently, had already stopped working. I reminded him that it would still give him the right time twice a day. I'm full of that kind of useful information – he was kind enough not to wince.

Evan, Tito, Jeff, Marvin, Tim, Alan (Semok), Unsteady Freddie... a rogue's gallery of Procol Harum fandom converged on the little village like some kind of pre-invasion scout team. Approaching in the distance – could that be? Yes: the Norwegian himself was there – Jens and his entourage joined the festivities, somehow making things seem that much more official.  

On to the show ... first of all, the venue was sold out, packed to capacity, and brimming with excitement. The audience was a mix of old and young (although 'vintage' music fans dominated) and obviously made up mostly of Procol Harum fans – although I spoke to several people who attended simply for a night out who had that 'oh, yeah – I know that song' moment when A Whiter Shade of Pale, A Salty Dog, Conquistador, or Pandora's Box was brought up. We met veteran PH concert-goers and first-timers. The first-timers ranged from hopeful to skeptical before the houselights dimmed, but all were believers by the time the show ended. There was an enthusiastic welcome, several standing ovations, and a loud, rousing, energising call for more as the band ended the concert.

The set list – easily found elsewhere – was diverse and surprising: one new number (War is Not Healthy – a funky addition to Procol's anti-war set), the absence of some concert standards (no Grand Hotel, Bringing Home the Bacon, nor Whisky Train), some less-often included songs (Robert's Box, Barnyard Story, TV Caesar, Strangers in Space, Piggy Pig Pig and The Devil Came From Kansas!), all preceded by an opening number that no-doubt surprised any fan familiar with the usual concert  repertoire: An Old English Dream.

Everyone was in fine form. Whitehorn and Pegg seem to have developed – or improvised – a few moments of comic choreography, playing most often against Phillips and/or Dunn. Whitehorn did his usual superb job of playing with power, taste and passion, adding not only his virtuosity but his sense of fun to the proceedings – his respect for the material is obvious and his stage presence is undeniably strong. Matt Pegg's bass playing has always been solid and impressive, and he came through once again – his work during Strangers In Space, in particular, was a delight. Josh Phillips, dividing his time between the Hammond (looked pretty new to me) and a synth, held down stage left with a solid counterpoint to Gary's keyboard – string sounds, French horns, trumpets and even a brief riff from Close Encounters of the Third Kind kept Phillips a busy man through the night. Geoff Dunn – a solid, powerful, organic type of drummer – thundered appropriately through the night, keeping time, firing the guns, rolling in Shalimar ...

What can be said about Gary? The Commander proved (as usual) to be a pleasant host with sometimes puzzling, always entertaining banter – of course, Brooker's voice continues to amaze – a master of phrasing, the singer manages to make even decades-old songs come to new life. Sitting at the piano, whether playing blues, barrel-house boogie, or creating his special mix of chord and melody, Gary Brooker is nothing less than a national treasure. Thank you, Mr Brooker. You still bring chills up and down our collective spine.

Highlights were many – I'll just mention two:

Strangers in Space came off as wonderfully bluesy and stunningly beautiful at the same time. Incredibly atmospheric, featuring a wonderful vocal by Gary and a strong showing from 'young' Matt Pegg, whose bass work was structurally vital to the song's success, and whose solo was melodic and impressive, Strangers was a revelation.

Of course, I'm a sucker for Barnyard Story – the song was at the top of my wish list – and the expanded live version of this wonderful song is amazing. As perfect as the studio version is, the power and passion of the live rendition, featuring a powerful, eloquent solo from Whitehorn, is a genuine Procol Harum experience that every fan needs to hear. Prepare to be moved when you do....

So it was a very good night. Good friends got together, food and laughter was shared and great music filled the air.

Apparently, the experience was pretty much the same for the fans and for Procol Harum.

Thanks, Bert

Procol Harum concerts in 2010: index page

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