Music Review: Procol Harum Live with the ESO

Procol Harum came back to town last week to perform for the third time with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and they definitely did not disappoint.  With two sold-out audiences on November 9 and 10 the anticipation was palpable, though somewhat different from their first show in 1971. THAT one was special in a different way. At that time the atmosphere was electric anticipation – not only was a British progressive rock band making their first Edmonton appearance, but they were making a live recording – and with our own Edmonton Symphony Orchestra of all things!

This time, the atmosphere before the show tended to have the feel of nostalgia. There were many in the crowd who had been there in 1971, as had I, and we were all wondering if the show was going to be a replay.  It turned out that it was not that at all – it was better.

Maestro Bill Eddins came on stage to introduce the group and he broke the ice with his priceless remark: “By the end of this show I hope to turn a whiter shade of pale.” He obviously had fun conducting this gig, and it showed. It turned out that three members of the orchestra had played in that original 1971 concert – violinist Broderyck Olson, bassist Rhonda Taft and trumpeter Bill Dimmer – and the crowd warmly acknowledged their presence. And along with the orchestra, the Da Camera Singers were backs as well.

The programme began with a brilliantly orchestrated version of “Homburg,” from the German version of their 1967 self-titled debut album. Listening to the rich harmonic textures, it’s no wonder that Procol Harum has been heralded as the creators of symphonic rock. This was no three or four-chord band.

The group presented many of their greatest tunes including “Shine On Brightly,” “Grand Hotel,” “Simple Sister,” “Mr. Blue Day,”  “Into the Flood,” and “Butterfly Boys,” to name a few.

The second half of the show opened with a beautifully orchestrated version of their seminal hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which literally brought down the house. This was soon followed by an unexpected surprise that most definitely will never be forgotten by one member of the audience.  Brooker announced that Jack Dobbs from Calgary had won tickets for the concert. Apparently he had also been at the 1971 show on his first date with a lady, to which Brooker remarked, “I wonder if he married her?  I wonder if they’re still together?” Then he announced that it just also happened to be Dobson’s birthday, so the band promptly sang “Happy Birthday” accompanied by the robust singing of the audience.

The concert featured only two selections from the original Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra recording, namely, “A Salty Dog,” and “Glimpse of Nirvana,” both with new orchestrations by Brooker. The man is a musical genius, the way he integrates the band into the orchestral textures and is still able to retain the original integrity of the songs.

Lead singer and pianist Gary Brooker was the only one on stage from the original personnel of the band and he was definitely showing his age with snowy white hair and goatee, but he sure didn’t sound his age. He still sounded like he did nearly forty years ago with a youthful vocal sound and he never missed a note. Wow!

Accompanying him and replacing his original band mates were Josh Phillips on the Hammond XK-3C, the digital version of the traditional Hammond B-3 organ, guitar wizard Geoff Whitehorn, Matt Pegg on bass and drummer Geoff Dunn.

Following  prolonged applause from the audience at the end of the show, the band came back and gave the encore that everyone had come to hear: “Conquistador.” This was another great concert to remember.

more in Music Review     |     posted Nov 15th, 2010 at 11:22am     

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