Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Grayer Shade of Pale from Procol Harum'

Joshua Kosman in The San Francisco Chronicle, 5 October 1991

'60s rockers reunite at Palace of Fine Arts
Sure, it's easy and kind of fun to make mock of the various '60s rock bands that have shown up on the reunion trail in recent years, especially if the band in question never meant much to you in the first place.

But nostalgia offers its own particular delights to aficionados, and that was who packed the Palace of Fine Arts Thursday night for the return of those estimable old art-rockers Procol Harum.

With the release of a new album, 'The Prodigal Stranger,' and the first concert tour in well more than a decade, the band seems determined to make a new career for themselves. That may be, but the pleasures of Thursday's show suggested pretty clearly that their future is behind them.

The audience sat dutifully through the recent songs, most of which are mediocrities. The point of the evening, though, seemed to be hearing the familiar oldies once again: Shine On Brightly, Conquistador, A Salty Dog, and of course, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Perhaps if Procol Harum, like many another band of its age, had spent the past couple of decades turning out increasingly unlistenable records, this would have been a sorry display. But coming after a lengthy silence, this return visit had an exciting, even moving effect.

Pianist and vocalist Gary Brooker, his hair now white at the temples, made references to the physical demands of the performance, which were indeed evident in his strained singing.

Still, it was satisfying to hear his distinctively reedy tenor once again, as well as the two-keyboard interplay between him and organist Matthew Fisher. Guitarist Robin Trower, the group's other surviving founder, played on the new album but was capably replaced on tour by Tim Renwick.

And Procol Harum's rich, intelligent songs for all their arty flourishes and Bach quotations do stand up wonderfully well over time.

Maybe next time we'll get to hear Whaling Stories too.

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