A rock group performing with a symphony orchestra has always been a bit of a dicey proposition at best. Yet ever since the Beatles began adding such classical orchestration to their records, it has also been the sort of experiment that simply proved too much to resist for some bands.
Predictably, the results have almost always proved disastrous (there's good reason why few people remember Deep Purple's attempt, for example). On the other hand, there have been a handful of groups who were actually able to pull it off, most notably the Moody Blues.
Procol Harum is one such band. In fact, their second-biggest hit song, "Conquistador," (the biggest of course being the sixties psychedelic classic, "A Whiter Shade Of Pale") came from just such a recording, a 1974 live album made with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Thirty years after that album, Procol Harum are at it again on In Concert With The Danish National Concert Orchestra And Choir, a new DVD filmed at an outdoor concert in Denmark under the picturesque setting of a Danish Castle.
Procol Harum and a symphony orchestra. Like that surprises you?
I for one was surprised to see that Procol Harum was even still together. That initial surprise was however quickly explained away when, in watching this DVD, it became apparent that today's Procol Harum consists of original singer/songwriter/keyboardist Gary Brooker and a group of very good musicians, none of which I remember from the band as I knew it in its sixties and seventies heyday.
Of course Procol Harum was always kind of a revolving door that way. Previous members include one-time seventies guitar hero Robin Trower.
So this DVD is pretty much what I expected. Both the sound and the video are excellent as concert videos from the folks at Eagle Rock nearly always are. Gary Brooker, looking every bit like the perfect graying English gentleman these days, has also managed to maintain his voice quite well.
As for the songs?
Also pretty much what I expected. Some work great within the more classical format, while others don't work quite as well. The orchestral arrangement on "A Salty Dog," for example, really does compliment the original, particularly in the case of the added choral touches. "Conquistador" is likewise flawless, but of course that song already benefited from the orchestral arrangement that made it such a big hit back in the seventies.
Less successful is the symphonic arrangement of "A Whiter Shade Of Pale." If ever there was a song where you don't want to de-emphasize the organ (or to try adding to it), that's the one. It's like screwing with "Light My Fire." You just don't do it.
Likewise, "Simple Sister," a guitar powered near-hit for Procol Harum from the Trower days is done no favors by a female choir singing the words "Simple Sister" at exactly the moments where the guitar should be out front and center.
The bonus material here is pretty danged cool though — a six-song set filmed for a Danish TV special in 1974 that actually reminds you these guys once knew how to rock. And that people could actually smoke in a bar way back then.