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.
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