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

REAL TIME

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.10 | 133 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars After the much-awaited studio return of the classic VDGG quartet (which turned out to be fine but not fabulous as we'd have hoped), this album is (a bit unknowingly) the second album that they will record in a few months. Indeed, this album was recorded on the opening night of their reunion tour, and does it ever show: you don't need to be watching films or videos, you can just feel the excitement and the tension of the event, just playing this CD in your living room.

Although I understand the point of recording the opening night, I am a bit perplexed as to why release it as a live album, because obviously the night was technically imperfect. Generally the quality of the acoustics and the recording are not really at stakes here, but more the quartet's shaky start. For very understandable with such fan expectations, the pressure's weight must've incredibly perturbed them for their first night in almost 30 years as VDGG. Their coordination was clearly on shaky grounds at first (even if they started with the awesome but shortened Undercover Man, one of my favourites), especially with Jaxon, and at one point, you can almost feel that they will fall apart in Scorched Earth. But by the fourth track, after the early crowd favourite Refugees (also shortened, but well played), the quartet attacks a well-rehearsed track, the opening of their new album, Every Bloody Emperor (clearly the album's best track and one of the rare that stands up to the older tracks) and this was obviously a confidence booster.

Lemmings was always a bit difficult for me, but I must say that this live version is completely baffling, but not necessarily positively: This version is utter chaos to my ears but this is where they unleash themselves, Jaxon's sax often over-saturating. Not really that familiar with Black Room, this "surprise" track makes almost the effect of a new (and superb) number that I have spun more often than the rest of this album, so far, and its dynamics are impressive. The first disc closes on an excellent (but shortened again) Darkness, where now the group has got all of its chops together and are starting to shine, Banton ruling on this one.

Funnily enough, the Generator is only pumping out one excellent track every second number: after the excellent Black Room, Darkness and the outstanding Childhood's End and later the outstanding Man-Erg (even if Jaxon's sax is again not perfect), there are tracks that I find lesser or not that well rendered on that night: Masks and Sleepwalkers (still with the hated Cha-Cha-Cha) are not pleasers for this writer (even if the latter is impeccably played), but nevermind me. The always-excellent Killer comes in to break this alternating cycle and reversing it with the night ending in a questionable Wondering. (couldn't resist that one ;-)

Again I must wonder about the choice of releasing the opening night's recordings, beyond of course the title's theme of Real Time; they give the time of start and the end of the concert as well as the exact longitude and latitude of the RFH on the booklet artwork, and Hammill's in-between songs presentations are all based on Time, as was the Present album they were promoting. But the rough start aside, this is a good testimony of VDGG's powerful presence on stage. Although one can discuss of the track list: only two (but two out of three's only excellent) tracks from Present, two from The Least (no surprises there), one only from H To He, two from Pawn Heart (but not the one I was hoping for ;-) is a good token that Hammill & Co, are now fully reconciled with their first period. However, I am a little disappointed that, with the unsurprising three tracks from Godbluff, there is only one from Still Life (but what a track it is, though), but two are from the rather average World Record (and not my choices either), but this is of relative minor importance. While the band is not really as tight as they could be (this is opening night after a 30-years holiday after all), this album is already a classic live Generator album that has its place alongside the fairly different Vital.

Sean Trane | 4/5 |

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