Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives: Procol Harum at the Town Hall, NYC 9/26/91

[editor’s note – birthday party tonight means tomorrow is probably a washout for the crew here: probably nothing to report unless somebody comes off the bench and delivers. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: why not see if you can track down some of this stuff on limewire?]

 

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 Original guitarist Robin Trower has been replaced by the far superior Tim Renwick, a highly sought-after British session player who’s worked with Al Stewart and many others.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 B.J. 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 ripoff 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.

 

 

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September 26, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

4 Comments »

  1. Of course, despite what the postscript says, Procol Harum has been touring fairly regularly since then even having released an album of new music. Mr Fisher is again gone (and is greatly missed), replaced yet again by the very able Josh Phillips. Still with the band (since late 1991) is Tim Renwick’s replacement, the mighty Geoff Whitehorn …who is an even more superior guitarist than the band’s original fret man.

    Comment by The Professor | September 27, 2008 | Reply

  2. Sorry, no one was superior to Robin.

    Comment by Jeff Gauthier | August 18, 2011 | Reply

  3. I was there, and poor Renwick was embarrassing, first because the crowd screamed for Robin, second, because he really didn’t play all that well as not being that familiar with Procol’s work, and third, he looked pretty ridiculous with the hobby horse stance.

    I wouldn’t over-use the word “bluesy,” especially on the stodgy march-tempo “Devil Came from Kansas” or the pure progrock “Shine on Brightly.” Then again, I wouldn’t use so many effete terms that color the left-handed compliments here. I find the review “somewhat stagy,” and “Conquistador” was never the “highlight” of any Procol fan’s night. Great song, but not “predictably” what the fans consider the greatest treat (“A Salty Dog” and of course, “AWSoP” would be the choices).

    No idea why the drummer for the evening wasn’t mentioned by name, or why “grunge idiocy” had to be the reason for wanting to go see the “majestic” “art-rockers” instead. But at least you enjoyed the show. It seems. Not that I’d prefer the even more effete and offensive reviewing one finds at the Procol website by twits who use five-dollar musical terms and throw in jocular “hail fellow well met” writing that would be pretentious even in the 19th century (ie, “our stalwart lads then gathered their forces to play us…” that type of drivel).

    But then again, how many are reading this reply? Some fat-faced idiot who has caused Procol’s manager to ban fans from coming backstage? We’ve already heard from the pest Gauthier putting in his literal two cents. Maybe it’s time for Warthog One-Eye to grunt that he too, was there, as he travels the world to see every show and drool a lot. Most Procol fans do seem to sit alone with their distortion pedals, providing “dirty noisy solos” for themselves. Only Procol Harum know exactly how the music should be enjoyed, and they have never reviewed themselves. They are beyond such things. In fact, I’m sorry I’ve written this, but the time here in Australia is so different from anywhere else, it’s already been posted.

    Comment by Wellwisher | August 24, 2011 | Reply

  4. I recorded most of the show and beg to differ as far as Renwick is concerned. His playing was much more complex than Trower’s, but I think he really rose to the occasion. His style is a lot different, which may explain the reaction of the crowd around you (I was seated in the middle and everybody there, including the yahoo whose whoops and hollers are all over my tape, seemed to love the show).

    DCFK is a blues – follow the chord changes, which I believe shouldn’t be difficult for you. Shine On Brightly is a pop song, more or less – I’ll have to dig out that tape to weigh the bluesiness factor.

    This was my first time seeing this band. Needless to say, I never expected to be able to see them, as they were long finished by the time I was old enough to go to concerts. The comment about grunge is a period reference – this was 1991, remember. BTW – it takes some balls to use that particular name as your email, but I’m letting you off the hook for having the good taste to choose it to represent you!

    Comment by the boss here | August 24, 2011 | Reply


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