Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at Westbury, USA

5 November 2010 • William Pellegrini for BtP

William Pellegrini writes to 'Beyond the Pale' from Long Island, NY

I am a Procol fan since 1967: I saw the original group at least six times live; my band played almost the entire first and second albums in our sets at our high school dances. I believe the original group was the best ensemble effort I have ever seen.

I saw the present line-up in Tarrytown on 10 June and although it was good I as usual left with a feeling that, compared to the original concert experience, I was basically kissing my sister. I really thought “it must be me” and I have turned into a total curmudgeon golden-ageist, holding these poor fellows up to the standard of my filtered memories of them at the Fillmore in '67.

Something remarkable happened here in Westbury. The room was smaller than I thought it would be, the seating excellent! Procol had sold only about 80 % of the room. It was definitely cosy and Gary could clearly hear anything people were calling from the audience, He was in a great humour and seemed to be in a nostalgic mood.
The band was really great. Either the sound at Tarrytown was really bad, or they mixed Josh Phillips too low. My impression of that show was that he was playing too much as an ensemble player and did not fully grasp – or was too shy to be up front and on – an equal footing as Gary. Well, he hit the volume pedal a little harder in Westbury and his organ work was much more confident.

Matt Pegg was brilliant. He and Geoff Whitehorn both have a delicate line to toe in my opinion: they have to play parts made famous by the great Robin Trower and David Knight without imitating them. Both these artists earned my total respect. Pegg was able to capture Knights's glorious restraint and dignity and still make the songs his own.

Geoff Whitehorn has been earning my respect each time I see him play; after this show he goes on my Top 5 list. I especially like that he basically plugs right in and, except for a booster, pretty much controls his voicing from the axe. I am partial to this approach, having been a close friend and fan of the incredible Arlen Roth for almost as long as I have been a fan of Procol Harum. Arlen uses the whole guitar, bending and banging almost every part of it, but never crossing the “gimmick “ line. Geoff's performance was near perfect. Kudos from me and everybody who heard this remarkable show.

I avoid drum and Bass solos like the plague. This night I was treated to two of the best of both classes that I have ever heard. Geoff Dunn has a flair for subtle dynamics of volume and syncopation and – as much as it pains me to say this – may be actually better than my late friend from Ponders End, BJ Wilson. He uses rests and crescendo so well that it is scary. He has the taste to be fast without it being about fast, adding in rolls and flams at lightning speed to punctuate his statements perfectly.

By the end of the show I was hoarse from cheering “thank you” (of course I'm usually cheering "more!"!)

I thought Gary was teasing us when he started to chant 'Ommmmm' and when In Held 'Twas in I started I assumed we were getting an excerpt as this was supposed to be an encore. The last time I saw this performed was at the Fillmore in '68 or '69 when Shine on Brightly was released in the USA I remember Trower, after it was over, looking at Brooker and wiping his brow and saying “whew” ( I don’t know if that was because he got through the 5/4 guitar part over the 4/4 band chorale part at the end. I had heard that he had so much trouble with it that on the album he was playing the final lead by himself with Brooker counting it out for him. I don’t know if that’s true but except for one small error in the “'Twas” part (Gary wasn’t quite ready, or signalled Geoff Dunn: Geoff started the Circus drum roll a bit early, caught it, and they righted the ship and covered it nicely) They played the piece magnificently. Gary muttered they had rehearsed it, as they started it.

 Afterwards I began to think about why this group of guys had come together so beautifully at last at this time. The next day at work I set my iPod away from Dr Professor Longhair and Clifton Chineer and had a Procol Harum-only day. I went through my whole collection and really felt the awesome body of work that Gary and the various incarnations have created. I started thinking about the process of rehearsing In Held 'Twas in I and I have come to the conclusion that the process of recreating this piece caused all the musicians to go back and critically listen to those amazing first albums; I believe that process gave them all a greater appreciation of just why the original group was so great. (Extra bonus: I never realised that the second verse to A Whiter Shade of Pale was sung and recorded on the Union Chapel DVD: I would love to know if anybody knows of recordings of the third verse which I heard Gary sing at the IMAC in Huntington, but was too stunned to realise what I was hearing till it was half over)

I personally am looking for another performance that is reasonable for me to haul my battered derrière to asap (I bought three tickets for friends so my wallet is a bit bruised as well). I am still glowing radioactively from this show and am hoping that this ensemble stays together for a very long time.

Thank you Captain Brooker!

Procol dates in 2010

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