Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum not quite the equal of its old material

Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune, 2 October 1991

Procol Harumís Tuesday night show at the Vic Theatre provided intriguingly mixed answers to questions about whether a band can regain its identity when it re-forms years down the road.

When Procol cashed in its chips in 1977, the only original band members left were singer/pianist Gary Brooker and drummer BJ Wilson. Procolís new album, The Prodigal Stranger (Zoo), reunites Brooker, organist Matthew Fisher, guitarist Robin Trower and lyricist Keith Reid. Wilson died in 1989 [sic].

After contributing minimally to the new album, Trower once again split, leaving Brooker and Fisher as the only two former members onstage. Those two had already collaborated with Reid on Brookerís last solo album.

Wilson, not Trower, turned out to be the player most sorely missed Tuesday night. Wilsonís spare, dramatic style melded perfectly with both Procolís reaches for grandeur and its more grounded blues rock. His replacement, former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki, sounded at home on the newer, simpler tunes, but his style never clicked with the oldies, which comprised about two-thirds of the almost 90-minute show. The Caribbean feel of Pandoraís Box was lost beneath Brzezickiís 4:4 pounding, and he inserted all sorts of unnecessary fills that only blunted Brookerís piano-blues rhythms.

The other new members, bassist Dave Bronze and guitarist Tim Renwick, filled their roles ably, but the band never jelled. [Typistís note: They sounded just fine to me!] Shine on Brightly plodded when it should have soared, and the inevitable encore, A Whiter Shade of Pale, almost died on the transition to the chorus.

The new material paled next to even the later pre-breakup songs. The contrast between the mundane and the mystical was most apparent when the band moved from the new One More Time ('One more time/Remember how good it felt') to the bandís second single, Homburg, which begins with the intriguing ďYour multilingual business friend has packed her bags and fled.Ē

Yet the show remained a triumph of sorts. The band played songs from eight of its 10 initial albums, and they all held up, from the deliberate stomp of The Devil Came From Kansas to the driving Conquistador to obtuse oddities [sic] like Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone).

Brooker, his gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, remained behind his grand piano while the classically trained Fisher sat across the stage at his Hammond B3 organ. Together they carried on an ongoing, swirling dialogue that was topped by Brookerís raspy, remarkably undiminished blues growl. Simply put, he sang the hell out of the songs, and that was the concert. The majestic climax of A Salty Dog was downright chills-inducing. {fascinating extra detail (2006) about Joe Strummer's praise for Brooker's voice ... see here}

Although Procol Harum is commonly (and mistakenly) pegged as a time-capsule band, A Whiter Shade of Pale is really a one-of-a-kind tune that foreshadowed neither the gently orchestrated nor the harder-edged material that followed. Wipe off the tarnish and those earlier songs shine on brightly, whereas in 10 years, the newer tunes will seem oh-so-1991.

(Thanks, Pam, for the typing)

More concert reviews

1991 tour dates

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