Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Love Hz: Procol Harum Steps Up to Blu-ray

Mark Smotroff, online at TechnologyTell

There are some movies and concert videos we collector types like so much we sometimes go to extremes buying the latest greatest deluxe edition or other upgrade. Sometimes just getting the film in better quality than what you had previously is more than enough, as evidenced by my recent reviews of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Things to Come.

This week I finally picked up the Blu-ray reissue of a great concert by legendary British rock icons Procol Harum recorded at the end of their 2003 tour supporting their then new album, The Well’s On Fire.

Live at Union Chapel (released around the mid ’00s) was always a lovely experience, even on DVD: a grand performance by a well-oiled incarnation of the band, which at that time still featured two of its founding members, singer/pianist Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fischer [sic]. The DVD looked good and it sounded good with the DTS soundtrack on.

The Blu-ray Disc is more of the same, only it looks and sounds even better! Now you can see details down to individual hairs on Gary Brookers [sic] snowy white head and the scratches on the side of Matthew Fischer [sic]’s Hammond B3 organ. You can watch Brooker’s finger reflecting in the keys of his piano and you can almost feel the grain on Geoff Whitehorn’s guitar strap! Overall there is a much greater sense of depth, bringing you further inside the heart of the chapel along with the band.

Most importantly to this fan, however, is the sound. The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack here is much fuller and more distinct that the DVD’s vanilla DTS. It presents for the most part a solid – if somewhat standard – live concert soundstage. Bass is much more prominent than on the DVD, and Fischer [sic]’s Hammond has a nice mid-room presence in the surround mix – you kinda feel like you are in fifth or sixth row listening to this.

The audio mix seems to capture some of the ambiance [sic] of the Union Chapel. I say “seems to,” since there are points throughout much of the concert where you can hear a pretty extreme slap of delay on Gary Brooker’s voice that sounds a bit like it was added in afterwards. I may be entirely wrong and hope it’s just the natural delay of the concert venue that they have captured there. On a disc of many strong plusses, this is probably the only real nit I have found. All in all, Brooker’s voice sounds fabulous and has aged well, bringing a sense of maturity and warmth that can only be obtained from performing and recording nonstop for forty-odd years.

Even the bonus features (an interview with Gary Brooker) looks [sic] a lot better than on the DVD. The grainy footage of the band walking from backstage, as well as cutaway shots to the audience periodically, are somewhat superfluous but, again, given the high quality of the show otherwise I can’t complain.

This is a great version of the band, very tight and playing with passion for the music old and new. Speaking of the then-new material, it has aged well and sits nicely alongside the Procol Harum classics from the ’60s. Don’t expect to see the band members jumping around, however (as I read from one disappointed young reviewer on another site) – this band is more about a chamber music sort of vibe, and while they can get plenty bluesy and rocky when they want to, by and large the images you will see are of a bunch of middle-aged guys playing great music really well.

But if you want to hear and see some amazing songs performed pretty much as good as they get, you’ll want to pick up this Blu-ray Disc soon. You can snag it at Amazon pretty cheaply.

Also check out this Procol Harum fan site called Beyond the Pale.

[Here are some clips from it courtesy of the good folks at Eagle Vision, including Whiter Shade of Pale featuring the extra, rarely performed, third verse! This version of Simple Sister gives the original a run for its money while paying due homage to original guitarist Robin Trower, maintaining some of the original flavor and taking it some new places, too].


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More about the Union Chapel DVD More reviews of this album

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