Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum, Town Hall, Manhattan

26 September 1991: review from Lucid Culture

A majestic, powerful show worthy of these legendary art-rockers. This was organist Matthew Fisher’s first New York appearance with Procol Harum since 1968, and he proved none the worse for the decades away. Original guitarist Robin Trower has been replaced by the far superior Tim Renwick, a highly sought-after British session player who’s worked with Al Stewart and many others. There was also a new rhythm section, the drummer playing the late BJ Wilson’s imaginative, terse flourishes often beat-for-beat. They mixed classics from the 60s and 70s along with a lot of new, vastly inferior material from their 'comeback' album The Prodigal Stranger.


Of the old stuff, Shine On Brightly really hit the spot, right down to Fisher’s bluesy organ solo. Pianist/frontman Gary Brooker then pulled out a real surprise, opening the stately, matter-of-factly snarling Homburg by himself before the band joined in. They ran through a bunch of somewhat stagy, weird stuff from their later 70s albums including Nothing But the Truth and a failed 1975 attempt at funk, Pandora’s Box. The oldest material, however, was often transcendent. Renwick played Trower’s eerie, thickly sustained lead lines note for note while adding a macabre edge of his own on the long, bluesy The Devil Came from Kansas and the long, pounding epic Simple Sister. The mutiny anthem A Salty Dog began with a tape of seaside effects – seagulls, waves and such – and slowly built to symphonic proportions on the wings of the two keyboards, awash with rich synthesized orchestration.


The highlight of the night was, perhaps predictably, Conquistador. Brooker began what could easily have been the most beautifully intense five minutes of live music of the entire year with a staccato string synth intro that effectively captured the haunting power of the hit single’s string section. When it came time, Renwick hit his distortion pedal and provided a dirty, noisy solo; when the intro recurred and the song finally wound down at the very end, it was impossible not to feel sadness for the skeleton in the rusty armor lying half-buried in the sand, evil imperialist though he was. The encore was equally gripping: the long version of Whiter Shade of Pale, including a third verse that doesn’t appear to ever have been released (and made no more sense than the rest of the lyrics), followed by a long, ferocious Repent Walpurgis, the Bach Invention rip-off that closes their first album. In this age of grunge idiocy, so sweet to see a band with the balls to close their show with a dated, psychedelicized organ tune and an instrumental – and earn a standing ovation for it.


[postscript: Procol Harum would return for another, vastly less successful American tour the following year and then break up for good [sic!]. Renwick would go on to another, even better gig (popularity-wise, anyway) as the second guitarist in the Roger Waters-less Pink Floyd]


Another review from this concert | More concert reviews | Earwitness report of this show | Tim Renwick's 2007 solo album for sale at the BtP Store

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