VENUE THE PALLADIUM, LONDON
On 18 november, 1971, Procol harum played a concert augmented by orchestra and choir. released the following year as live: in concert with the edmonton symphony orchestra, the live document would go on to be their biggest seller. tonight in london, the current incarnation reproduce that album, aided by the senbla orchestra and english chamber choir.
leader Gary Brooker takes the stage to a rousing welcome from a partisan crowd who clearly hold him in deep affection. it sets the atmosphere for what promises to be a special night of symphonic prog.
conquistador dazzles with its effortless complexity. cinematic sergio leone strings and trumpet flourishes are sublime, while Geoff whitehorn’s dextrous lead guitar grounds us in rock. and yet there’s a problem – Brooker’s unmistakable voice sounds laboured and cracking. the choir provide support during all this and more, after which Brooker addresses the issue by applying a well-known swiss-brand throat lozenge and “something medicinal”, and he sails through the following luskus delph.
a salty dog gives the massed ensemble an opportunity to flex their muscles. when the orchestra and choir join forces in its climactic denouement, the balcony above us starts to rattle in resonant sympathy. it’s a magnificent rendition that’s nonetheless overshadowed by the
epic five movements of in held ’twas in i, which careers from dark mysticism to surreal music hall via romantic choral music. Breathtaking.
the second set shifts gear with hard rockers Businessman from
2017’s novum and seldom-performed B-side into the Flood. in jovial form, Brooker begins, “if anybody’s got any requests…” to numerous shouted pleas, before finishing “…we won’t be playing any of them.” instead, another rarity, within our house, is dedicated to the Procol faithful and absent friends. its hymn-like cadences raise goosebumps.
whaling stories from the original edmonton concert then finally shows up, omitted by an earlier setlist malfunction. its dramatic heavy riffing renders it the perfect closer.
a whiter shade of Pale summons those goosebumps again. the instrumentation matches its baroque origins and it soars. conquistador is reprised in an orchestration by collaborator nicholas dodd, a fitting end to an evening’s masterclass in arranging symphonic rock, not merely augmenting the band but elevating their music.