November 4, 2004

DVD Review: Procol Harum - Live at the Union Chapel

How does one begin a review of a DVD featuring a band that one knows nothing about? Neither do I, but I'm going to try anyway. Procol Harum has been a musical presence for a long time, whether actively touring and recording, or just getting radio airplay and being available in stores. Now they have released their first concert DVD. It was recorded on December 12, 2003, and now you can you can be a part of it. I know that sounded bad, but it's true, watching a well produced concert on DVD can make you feel as if you were there, right in front of the stage.

Procol Harum is a band I had heard of, but can't really say I have heard any of their songs. When I first started up this show, I was introducing myself to a world of music brand new to my ears, and I guess that can give me somewhat of a unique perspective at this stage of the game. The first thing that struck me was the power of the music. The blending of all the instruments is great, everything just fits right into place. A beautiful medley of sounds. The music has a distinctively 60's sound, yet at the same time has a certain timeless quality to them. Very much like some of the other greats to emerge from that era, they could have been recorded yesterday or forty years ago with the same effect.

As I watched the show, I couldn't help but marvel at the jam band feel but with definite structure that the music seemed to carry. It was as if these guys could take one riff and take off on a long meandering jam session, yet they never do, it remains in a structured layer. Serving the song rather than any musical ego trip. This concert envelopes the listener in it's smooth sounds. I, for one, very much enjoyed the outcome.

They are very easy to listen to. Although there is one thing that put me off somewhat, Gary Brooker's voice. Before you get mad at me, allow me to explain a bit. I found his voice to be a bit off, not as strong as the songs deserved, I do realize that he has been performing since the 60's so I do not expect his voice to have the power it did 40 years ago, but it just came across a bit rough. I did not let this get to me too much, I just wanted to put it out there as one of my observations. The band is excellent, the rhythm section is tight, Brooker's Piano is smooth. The highlights musically were guitarist Geoff Whitehorn, and organist Matthew Fisher. Strong work from these two, some wonderful lead breaks and just solid playing all around.

Some notable performances that stood out to me were Homburg with a great guitar solo, the tight instrumental Weisselklenzanacht, the playful feel of Shadow Boxer and Wall Street Blues. On through to the somber tone set in This World is Rich, or A Salty Dog. Finishing the set off is a complete, or so I'm told not knowing the original, A Whiter Shade of Pale. Altogether there are 20 songs performed here with a running time of over two hours.

The direction and editing is also very good. All of the band get there screen time, the camera takes it's time, lingering on different players during their parts. Overall there is a nice rotation around the stage showcasing the musicianship, but also the setting. Performing a concert in a church does not happen to often, and the setting here is just fantastic, not just your normal theater stage. There is the interesting architecture of a church that is over 100 years old, providing a unique backdrop.

Video. Shot on hi-def digital video, the image looks great. The colors are sharp and the blacks are deep. It just has a very good look to it. High production values went into the creation of this show, and it paid off, this is a treat for fans and non-fans alike. It is presented in what appears to be a ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced.

Audio. Sound is equally strong here, a very nice mix for the music. You are able to pick out each individual instrument just as easily as you can let them blend together. It is presented in three varieties, Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1, and DTS 5.1. I listened using the 2.0 setup, as I do not currently have the equipment to use the surround mode, but the 2.0 track is excellent.

Extras. In addition to a concert running over 2 hours, we get a few extra attractions.
-Interview with Gary Brooker. An interesting interview, but it is kind of annoying with an interactive aspect, where the question is text and you choose it to hear the answer, with no play all option.
-Earlier in the Day montage. A look at the setup and preparations leading up to the show.
-Alternate angle. On an Old English Dream and VIP Room there are different viewing angles for the performances.
-Comments from the bar. As it says, candid commenst from fans at the bar.

Bottomline. I may not be converted into a hardcore fan with this disk, but it is an excellent addition to any music fan's collection. It is an excellent show with some great musicianship, not to mention the fact that it looks and sounds great from a technical aspect.



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