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Procol Harum Live At the Tarrytown Music Hall
June 10, 2010
 
The Vintage Theater nestled in the quaint, hilly streets of Tarrytown, NY sets the perfect tone for a Procol Harum concert: much like the band that the town hosts on this evening in early June, the local shops and restaurants create a sense of class and civility mingled with an adventurous spirit of fun and creativity.  Feels like Procol Harum country... 
 
Evidently, the band must've felt right at home, as they performed an exceptional two-part set of the unique entertainment that is the Procol Harum tradition -  some new songs and some of a more mature vintage – all executed with class, a sense of fun, and the high musical standard that their audience has come to expect.
 
After a seven year absence from the United States, some fans might've been a bit anxious about whether or not the band has lost a few steps in the interim. If so, the fears were shown to be unfounded as the current line up, two members having never yet appeared with the boys on this side of the ocean (organist Josh Phillips and drummer Geoff Dunn), played like a well-oiled machine and obviously had a good bit of fun doing it.
 
Gary Brooker, the central figure of the performing band since 1967 and one of the truly great, instantly recognizable voices in popular music, still plays the role of amiable host and musical 'commander.' And, yes – the voice is still potent. If anything, Brooker's vocals have grown richer and more infused with power and soul. His phrasing makes every performance a new and fascinating experience, even on songs he must've sung more times than we can imagine. Refreshingly free of the typical rock star bravado, Brooker – sideways to the audience and steering the good ship Procol from his piano bench – tempers his formidable and passionate performance with delightfully quirky between-song patter, obscuring his obvious control of the show with an amazingly casual ambiance to the point of occasionally asking what key a song is played in. The casual facade fades away, of course, when the great man's head tips back, eyes closed with fingers dancing across the keys. “All hands on deck,” indeed.
 
The key figure on stage visually is the amazing guitarist, Geoff Whitehorn. Replacing any member of such an iconic band is a thankless task (especially when we're talking about legends like Robin Trower), but to think of Whitehorn as anything less than worthy of the Procol Harum guitar spot would be a mistake. Possessing probably the most complete skill-set of any ax-man the band has ever featured, Whitehorn has not simply covered the requirements but actually (risk of being blasphemous here) up-graded  the role of the guitar in much of  the repertoire, and has certainly created his own special moments as he's grown into the Procol Harum sound. Obviously loving what he's doing, totally in the moment as he solos (was that a tear he wiped away after the moving instrumental passage of “Robert's Box?”), and obviously having a great amount of fun – whether dealing out power chords, delivering a searing blues solo, playing delicate volume swells, ornate, inspiring runs, tapping, bending, or playing slide - Whitehorn continues to astound with his combination of technique, soul, power and, most importantly, taste.
 
Long-time band member, 'young' Matt Pegg on bass, Josh Phillips on Hammond organ and synth, and Geoff Dunn on drums round out the five-piece unit, keeping the classic Procol Harum sound intact and lending the band perhaps its most dependably solid line-up in terms of performing the catalog (made up primarily of Brooker's music and Keith Reid's words) of this band's genre-defying music. Call it classic rock, prog, art-rock... Brooker would probably say they've always basically been an R&B band – but there's something very magical and at the same time very earthy about the band's music. From the surrealistic imagery of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” to the romantic and majestic “A Salty Dog,” to the ominous, epic “Whaling Stories,” to the bluesy rhythm & baroque of “Strangers in Space,” this band handles every song with the fresh energy of a touring band, and not a nostalgia show. 
 
In fact, Gary Brooker takes the advice of a song from the band's repertoire and keeps 'one eye on the future and the other eye on the past.'  There's another studio project in the works, as well as the occasional live album - not to mention special projects such as the recent live concert DVD/CD release featuring the band in concert accompanied by the Danish radio orchestra and choir (all of which can be learned about further at the excellent, informative website, Beyond the Pale, at www.procolharum.com ). 
 
So Procol Harum still knows how to rock the house ...and to send a chill up and down the spine, bring a lump to the throat and maybe even a tear to the eye. The crowd at the sold-out Tarrytown Music Hall was on its feet several times during the show and simply didn't want to see the night come to an end.
 And, yes – the crowd did, in fact, call out for more...
 
Bert Saraco: words and pictures
 
www.myspace.com/expressimage 
 
 
 
 

 

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