Music: Review: Procol Harum, Colston Hall

Margaux Pittet, May 24, 2017

This evening, Procol Harum invite the crowd to celebrate. It’s been fifty years since the band released their first LP and biggest hit Whiter Shade of Pale, which reached number one in the charts. The evening doesn’t only celebrate this anniversary but also introduces their new album Novum, which was released this year after fourteen years of inactivity. Today, the only original member is the insatiable singer, pianist and composer Gary Brooker.

The set starts with I Told You, a rock song with catchy rhythms from their new album. Brooker jokes that most people in the audience must have had a ticket bought for them, but when I look around me, I only see loyal fans from his generation. A good part of the set includes new songs, such as the upbeat Neighbour and the classically-influenced Sunday Morning. Novum is described by Brooker as the best Procol Harum album so far, but some of the songs do not show their best potential on stage with some out of sync transitions between songs.

The highlights of the set come when the band perform older songs like Hombourg, which shows that Brooker still has a powerful voice, and Conquistador, which features a crazy organ solo. But the very peak of the set is Whaling Stories, which starts as a beautiful ballad and turns into dark stormy progressive rock until the calm returns, like soft waves after a tempest at sea. After a bit of Bach on the piano and some Bob Marley, the much-vaunted Whiter Shade of Pale ends the show, finishing where it all began in the first place.

Despite the celebrations, Colston Hall isn’t full and the atmosphere struggles to take off. I wished Gary Brooker shared more previously unheard anecdotes about the band instead of private jokes with the musicians onstage.

This band started an era of rock as art just like their contemporaries Queen, and today most of the songs sound innovative and prove that Procol Harum have composed music that is still unrivaled.

 

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