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Van Der Graaf Generator - Real Time CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.09 | 182 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars It was a momentous day in the history of progressive rock music, a day for fans of a certain band who had lain dormant for 27 years to re-emerge. The fans gathered outside, waiting patiently for the doors to open. It was a day that shall never be forgotten by any one present, including the band members themselves on the 6th of May in 2005 and was their finest hour (or two). This is the recording of that concert, by one of the worlds greatest progressive rock bands, Van der Graaf Generator.

The fans finally entered the Royal Festival Hall in London, took their seats and waited patiently. People were nervous, fearful even, that their beloved favourite band may not be what they once were. This was the "classic" line-up, the line-up that had made some of the finest albums in their career. How would they fair in the present day? Of course, the band had recently released their new album, aptly named Present, so fans had an idea of their current musical vision -- an amalgam of over 35 years of hard grind and nobody was even expecting them to reform. Even more poignant was the fact that at the age of 60, Peter Hammill had suffered a heart attack less than a year before in 2004.

The band came on stage, Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and David Jackson, to a loud and raucous cheer. A brief introduction by Hammill and then they are away. the flute of David Jackson beginning a most spirited rendition of The Undercover Man, from the album Godbluff and though this version was little removed from the album version, it still sounds exceptional and fresh. Banton with a new keyboard setup consisting of just one keyboard, Jackson using his Soundbeam (a first for the band, I believe, besides on Present) and Hammill himself, now with grey hair and still very much The Thin Man, with a voice as powerful as ever. Guy Evans is still a strong and aspiring drummer behind his kit and it sounds as if the band never split up in the first place. The Undercover Man segues into Scorched Earth beautifully. These two tracks have always had a duality and they never seem to be played separately any longer. The Godbluff era has always been the strongest of their era to many fans, including myself, so it's a very apt way to begin a concert. In Refugees Hammill does a great job of making this live version extremely poignant. A brilliant performance indeed and a firm fan favourite. With the present climate in the world (and indeed, the climate back in May 2005 was not the best), the lyrics to Every Bloody Emperor from Present hit home. I really enjoy Banton's keyboard playing on this version and the middle section feels extended to me and seems somewhat of a jam. The band are clearly less nervous now and are revelling in it all. This is one of the stand-outs and just proves that Hammill's writing talents have never waned. It's also clear this is a band track, rather than a Hammill solo one, as it sounds like Van der Graaf Generator of old. Lemmings was one of the more difficult tracks to cover live and with Hammill having to tune-up his guitar (after having moved from the piano), the band play what seems to be an impromptu jam before the familiarity of Lemmings starts. Once more, they have no problems at all. The surprise cut of the evening was (In the) Black Room - which is actually a Peter Hammill solo number - written for an ill-fated Van der Graaf Generator album planned for release between Pawn Hearts and Godbluff, if they had not split-up. The track instead was recorded for Hammill's 1973 solo album Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night, with help from the rest of the band. The fans were very appreciative of it, as can be made evident by the cheering and it is one of those "lost" Van der Graaf Generator tracks, so this live version makes up for the poorly recorded Hammill version. For me, this was also one of the major highlights of the concerts, which just goes to show that Hammill solo material (albeit designed for the band), is just as strong as the official band material. They mixed up the different band eras for this concert, which works well and created a welcome break, as fans were most likely waiting in anticipation of another classic. Nutter Alert is yet another track from their 2005 studio album Present and because of its rather catchy lyrics and great Jackson saxophone playing, I am sure anyone who had been falling asleep would have been woken up. This is an outstanding version, which is vehement and hard-hitting and this is how the fans like Hammill to perform. This section of the concert was one of the highlights, as what follows is one of my all time favourite tracks. Darkness 11/11. Hammill continues on with his punk-stylised singing, which gives Darkness 11/11 a more desperate and awkward sound to the original. The whole band is on fire now and this might just be one of the definitive live versions of this track (although I have not heard later performances). Masks is from the album World Record, which many people underrate, so I suspect it did not make the impact that the next track Childlike Faith in Childhood's End - an existential masterpiece from the wonderful album Still Life - would make. In fact, this is the only number from Still Life performed that evening and tracks such as Pilgrims and La Rossa that were not included were also not missed. It just shows how strong their other pieces are. With just four songs to go, they could not have chosen four bigger crowd-pleasers. Each was outstanding, every one a winner and poignant in so many ways. I am pretty sure tears were shed at the concert, even from grown men! The Sleepwalkers is perhaps one of the strongest and most daring pieces the band have ever performed, especially the much maligned (or loved) Cha Cha Cha section in the middle.

The "final" track of the evening felt fitting to end the show. Man-Erg from the album Pawn Hearts has one of the most distinctive piano intros (played by Hammill) of any progressive rock number and so as soon as it began, there were many loud cheers, but these soon died down to a complete silence as the crowd once more became captivated. As soon as it starts, it ends. Twelve plus minutes of pleasure, including the ubiquitous Jackson middle section.

Then the band members walk off stage.

Of course this was not the end and the crowd knew this, so the shouts and banging of feet erupted, to indicate the fans wanted an encore... and an encore they would have.

For the encore they play Killer and the crowd erupt once more and the final stages of the concert are put into motion. How does an ensemble like Van der Graaf Generator end a comeback concert such as this, after playing Killer? I am sure the crowd were thinking this at the time also. The wonderful decision to play Wondering was perfect. It was the final tune on an album that would be the last by the classic line-up until 2005, it also ended with David Jackson playing the flute in a similar fashion to how the concert had started. They had gone full circle. They had explored every facet of their career, from old, to new and back again. Of course, I am clouded with my judgement of this album and my love of the band, but I seriously believe the 5 star rating I have given this is just. It is also likely that the band members themselves would believe that they could have performed better and perhaps they could have, but the whole nature of the concert is what it is all about. They more than justified their decision to reform and later tour.

This would not be the final concert by the band (many at the time thought it would be), but it is an historic concert and one that is likely to never occur again. I just wish I had been there to witness it for myself. I am so thankful, therefore, that the concert has been documented (albeit two years afterwards) in album format.

Van der Graaf Generator Who Am the Only One, always and forever in Still Life.

VanderGraafKommandöh | 5/5 |


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