Thursday was mostly a good day. It started off way too early, but for a happy reason. I got up at 7:30AM, and headed over to the court complex in Central Islip to see the finalization of an adoption for a teen boy I had worked with about a year and a half ago. I haven't seen him in more than a year, but I've been following along the agency social worker's notes for the last year. It was a happy ending that was a long time coming.
I came home and did some light work for the rest of the day, before taking a pre-concert nap. Unfortunately, I'd had some dental work done the day before, and this was the one fly in my ointment. I had a temporary crown put on a tooth, and I don't know for sure if I broke part of the tooth during the day, or if they just had my mouth too numb to feel it for most of Wednesday, but there's something jagged going on there just stabbing the hell out of my tongue. It's a pain in the butt (or in the tongue, actually), because I'm either going to have to go back to the dentist next week (a week early), or I'm going to have to fix it as best I can with orthodontic wax and hope for the best, during a week where I just have an incredible amount of work coming up. Both options suck.
Anyway, last night was another concert night, which is a good thing. Procol Harum was coming to the NYCB Theater in Westbury (which as we all know, is the corporate bullshit name for The Westbury Music Fair.) For some odd reason, though, the opening act was scheduled to be a band with the unlikely name of Jaimoe's Jasssz Band.
Now the last time I saw Procol Harum was about twenty or twenty-five years ago, also at the Westbury Music Fair. Only that time, they were in the middle spot of a three-band lineup, sharing a bill with Steppenwolf and Jefferson Starship. This, to my way of thinking, had been an infinitely more attractive lineup than last night's. What had possessed someone to book a fantasy prog rock band like Procol Harum with an act called "Jaimoe's Jasssz Band", I couldn't understand. Yes, Procol does have a solid blues base. But for me, even blues is a better fit than jazz. When I hear the word "jazz", I think of an all-instrumental act playing a discordant brand of acid jazz that would peel the paint off of walls. Why any self-respecting Procol Harum would want to see any jazz band, let alone a band put together by someone who calls himself "Jaimoe" who can't even spell the word "jazz" (Hint: There are NO "S's" in that word!) was beyond my comprehension.
So for once, I was in no rush to get to the show. I dropped my daughter off at her night school class (her boyfriend was picking her up later), stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some orthodontic wax and a mouth guard to protect my aching tongue, and drove towards Westbury without a care in the world.
Of course, I was still about twenty minutes early. Figures. Now my habit, in recent years, has been to pick up a hero at an amazing local sub shop called TJs, and enjoy my hero in the parking lot whenever I'm going to a concert by myself at Westbury (or at Jones Beach, for that matter). Unfortunately, last night, I was pretty sure I couldn't get my sore mouth around such a hero, so I decided to eat after the show.
I parked right in front of the theater (God, I love the Westbury Music Fair!), and strolled on in, delayed ever so briefly by a very short line. As soon as I set foot in the lobby, I heard a voice calling my name. It was local folk artist Hank Stone, who was waiting to meet a friend. We chatted about music for a minute, and commiserated about there were always more good shows than our ticket budgets could afford. We also talked about how he has coming in Lindenhurst in a few weeks that I'm really hoping to make it too. (He plays out way too seldom these days.) I then left him to wait for his friend, while I first checked out the merch counter, then hit the snack stand. I bought myself a $5 bottle of water, that tasted exactly $3 more delicious than the $8 bottle of water I'd bought at the Joe Jackson show a few weeks ago, and found my way to my seat.
I was sitting in Section E, in the very last row of the building, which in this particular venue, is still a great place to watch a show from. (Did I mention that I love the Westbury Music Fair?) The section was designed in such a way that I had plenty of leg room in front of me, which was great. (For once, I'd only bought myself one ticket.) It also had a convenient open side next to me for me to put my coat and water where no one would step on them.
I checked out the surroundings. The show was set up in the half-round tonight, which meant no rotating stage. This was probably just as well, as the last time I'd been here, I saw a hobbled Alan White of Yes nearly kill himself trying to get on and off of the damned thing. The show wasn't a sellout -- the room was between two-thirds and three-quarters full. This surprised me a little. But then again, Procol had played The City Winery in Manhattan for each of the last three nights, so I guess selling out four shows in the same general area isn't the easiest thing.
As I waited, a fellow plopped himself into the seat next to me. He seemed to be radiating anger to find himself seated right next to a -- umm, big-boned -- gent such as myself. Then again, I could have been imagining it.
Before I knew it, it was 8PM, the house lights went off, and "Jaimoe" and the band went on. I had done a little bit of research, so I actually knew that "Jaimoe" was really Jai Johanny Johanson (born under the name "Johnny Lee Johnson"), the 74-year-old founding drummer of The Allman Brothers Band. Tonight, he played as part of a 6-piece band, including a trumpet player and a saxophonist.
They launched into their first song, an instrumental that I guarantee is probably a familiar jazz staple, but I had no idea with it was. It was melodic enough, and it gave the various members of the band a chance to show off their individual chops. The crowd seemed appreciative, applauding pretty enthusiastically after each solo. It didn't really do anything for me, but it wasn't painful either.
Then a funny thing happened. The guitarist pulled the mic close, where he could sing, and the band then launched into "Stormy Monday". This isn't "jazz" by my definition, but I wasn't complaining. Their next number was another Allman Brothers classic, "Blue Sky". In fact, from the band intros that the horn player did at the end of this song, it seems as though the guitarist was once in the Allman Brothers, too. So between him and Jaimoe, I figure that gave this band way more Allman Bros. cred than I'd be willing to afford to the average tribute band.
Now here's the thing. I'm no huge Allman Brothers fan. There are literally dozens of bands I like better. But there are a good six-to-ten Allman Brothers songs that I like, and these guys were reeling them off, and doing a fine job of it. (OK, when I say I "like" them, I generally mean the main body of each song. Thanks to my ADD, my eyes tend to glaze over a little during the extended instrumentals. But still.) They then closed their 4-song, 50-minute set with an extended version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed". And it was good. So while I had been kind of dreading seeing this band, I actually found them pretty enjoyable. I'm not sure how well they match up with Procol Harum, but then again, who really does?
I pondered this thought between sets. Procol is a really unique band. They're prog rock, but not the kind of extended instrumental prog rock you get from bands like Yes or King Crimson -- they're more blues based. There might be some affinity with Strawbs, but that has more to do with the fantastical lyrical themes than it does with sound -- Procol doesn't have that folky thing going for them the way Strawbs or Jethro Tull do. In the end, I guess a band with an Allman Brothers type sound was just about as good a fit as Steppenwolf or Jefferson Starship had been.
These were my reflections as I waited for the stage crew to set up Procol, along with other big thoughts. Like "What is the meaning of life?" And "Why is peanut butter so good?" And "Do I need to worry about this pissed guy I'm sitting next to sucker punching me when he comes back from the bathroom?" I also texted back and forth with Denise, who reacted to my description of Jaimoe's Jasssz Band with a single word: "Yuck!" (There's a reason I was at this show by myself.)
Finally, the lights went down again, and Gary Brooker and his guys took the stage. This particular version of Procol has been together since 2006, so although I wasn't familiar with many (any) of the musicians other than Brooker, they've got chemistry together. This tour was (more or less) celebrating Procol's 50th (52nd?) anniversary, and the release last year of an 8-Disc Box Set called Still There'll Be More: An Anthology 1967-2017. They're also still showcasing some of the material from their most recent studio album, 2017's Novum. (Which I can live with. When I reviewed the album, I only rated it "average", but some of it has grown on me a little since then.)
Gary and the boys then commenced a nearly two-hour set that mixed newer material with a lot of old classics. I enjoyed their choice of setlist for the night, especially the inclusion of the ambitious "Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)" from their Grand Hotel LP, the whimsical "Homburg" from their Best Of LP, "Strong As Samson" (which was a bit of a surprise to me) from the Exotic Birds and Fruit album, and the relatively obscure "The Devil Came From Kansas" from my favorite Procol record, A Salty Dog. Oh, and "Still There'll Be More", from the Home album. I was thrilled they played that one. (They were playing it a lot on their last tour, but not so much on this one.)
Brooker's voice is a little muskier than it used to be, and there were times he didn't have complete control over it. But overall, I thought he still sounded pretty damned good, enough so that he allowed for my somewhat forgiving brain to make the necessary corrections to any notes he didn't hit dead on. And I've always loved his piano playing as well. The rest of the band is also quite good. Geoff Whitehorn's style of guitar is very reminiscent of Robin Trower's, and bassist Matt Pegg is the son of Fairport Convention/Jethro Tull bass player David Pegg, so you know he knows his stuff. And organist Josh Phillips and drummer Geoff Dunn are no slouches either.
Near the end of the night, someone from the venue came out and whispered to Brooker that they were running too long, so he had to make some hard choices about what to cut from the end of the set. In the end, he chose to keep "A Salty Dog", and use it as the set closer, which forced him to jettison "Conquistador" (which they usually close with). The one-song encore, of course, was their best-known number, "A Whiter Shade of Pale". A sixth man joined them when they took their final bows, who I'm guessing was their new lyricist Pete Brown.
Mr. Brooker spoke last night as though he intends to continue Procol until he drops, and I hope he does. I don't know for sure if these guys will ever be this way again. But I'm really glad they made it last night, and I'm thrilled that I was there. Honestly, I just enjoyed the hell out of this show.
Procol Harum's setlist for the night can be found at keepfightingthegoodfightgary.com. The setlist (the three songs I remember) for Jaimoe's Jasssz Band is at youguysareokbutthatnamehastogo.com.