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Van Der Graaf Generator - Godbluff Live 1975 CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 105 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars So here infront of us all is a DVD of rare VDGG material. Peter Hammil does not likethis sort of thing being released, yet the VDGG camp show no signs of letting it out either, so this is why I finally made this purchase.

My edition starts with early footage from the Beatclub show, with the band going through Whatever Would Robert Have Said and Darkness (11_11). Here is studio is dimly lit, with odd lighting abound, slightly like the original Break on Through to the Other Side promo from The Doors. Robert starts off with a closeup of Banton's Farfisa organ, which at this point in time is his only piece of equipment, although the wsundtrack allerts us to the presence ofa phaser unit running in the background. Also interesting is Jaxon's saxophone, which at this point is treated as an acoustic instrument. Also, Hammil is strumming an acoustic, and bassist Nic Potter is notably present, adding weighty precision-bass lines which help underpin the early Generator sound. One presumes this is the earliest footage avaiable of the band, and shows no sign of Hammil's later work with keyboards. On Darkness he stands out front, the most honest but minimal job of being a frontman ever afforded in rock.

The band thrash through the two songs and we get the idea we have followed them into the studio on a good day, although there is little experimentation at this point. Banton is very mobile in this video, bobbing up and down behind his tilted keyboard as if he is putting a lot of emotion into the chord clusters and pointed angles he is wringing out his organ.

And then we cut straight into the Belgian footage, shot in a room somewhere in 1971. Oft bootlegged, this version of Theme One has the organ dropping low in the mix early on, but still present thanks to Banton's revised razor-wire phaser units. Infact two identical units are sitting ontop of his magestic Hammond organ, whilst a tape echo unit sits next door. Behind banton is Jaxon's homebuilt and highly idiosyncratic valve-driven stack. Jaxon by this time has kicked the acoustic sax habit and glued transducers to the mouthpieces of his saxs, wiring them through fuzz and wah, and various other routes to get the dry DRY saxophone sound he now uses to great effect on Theme One. The old George Martin work is given an interesting runaround, and whilst close to the recorded version, one wonders if the idea was to iriginally jam the piece out, and make it more freeform, or make it an honest tribute to a remarkable piece of music?

Blam, we are straight into Plague of Lighthouse keepers. With rows of candles (and later, Sparklers) passing around the band whilst each member seems intent soley on their own input into the piece. There is no winks, no sideways nods, the band is running on some remarkable telepathy as the various vignettes and tones of the work pass by.

The original studio version of lighthouse keepers is enigmatic enough, with its curious Fripp-driven sections and tone-row experimentation, each instrument passing infront of the listener but never fully getting the word in, but the live version is even more moribund. Hammil's clavinova piano hails in the piece, with the sound of a harpsichord dessicated and left for dead. Jaxon's eary electrified sax follow into the mix, and Evan's drums, never pinning down a rythm but providing beats where they seem most wraught enters as well. Here we get a good look at Banton's new organ setup. Far away from standing behind his single-keyboard Fafisa, he is sitting behind his Farfisa and his Hammond with the extra electronics. Banton manages to get the most diverse of tones out this new setup, with both the Hammond and the Farfisa patched through phaser units, pushing them to the edge of the audible spectrum.

Watching the performance unfold one starts to ponder the whole purpose of VDGG. Here were guys who were intelligent enough to dismantle a hammond organ, put it back together in a different way, have new circuits and modified circuits happily coexisting, develope huge intricate systems to make a saxophone sound larger than life, and generally prove their technological worthyness, but still come up with highly weighty songs, whereby no real issue is dealt with, but we are taken on amazing journeys. Hammil sings about drowning, being posessed by a murderer, insanity etc, but are these issues he took to heart, or was he just observing from a far. A lot of this pondering would come accross as merely teenage angst if it was not coming from the lips of Peter Hammil, a man whose face is obscured by black hair but seems to be wanting to take the viewer on a 20 minute journey. Lighthouse keepers ends in a fanfare-like way, but we are still made to believe, somehow, that whilst at this present time the demons have been exorcised, we will wake up next morning and it will all come flooding back. Hammil and co are not offering any reward or survival strategy, they are merely content to sit back behind much modified equipment and proclaim loudly to the world that they atleast recognise these traits.

This paradox is spelt out even better in the 1975 footage. In this film there is no stage shots, merely constant juxtapositioning of close ups of hands and faces as the band wring out the entire Godbluff cycle. Whilst probably unintentional, the film-crew capture VDGG at their enigmatic best. We know Hammil is playing a keyboard, for example, as we hear it on the soundtrack, but instead we get a shot oh his face, then a shot of Guy Evans through a fish eye lense. One wonders after a while that there could be anything onstage happeneing, but we are not privy to it. Because we are watching VDGG's restless journey from the comfort of a television screen 35 years later, we don't have the right to truely see the bigger picture. This clostrophobic film style may begin to annoy, but it helps make up the bigger picture of the band. The old German footage at the beginning of the disk shows multiple band members, keyboard settings, amps, microphones, and any combination of the above, but this 1975 footage shows us neck tendons, beads of sweat and single finger keyboard passages. It is almost as if the director tapped a message from the band that the equipment is irrelivent. Banton might have one tape-echo unit, he might have four, either way, the much modified equipment is here to broadcast a message.

So unintentionally this entire DVD takes us on the journey from the merest hint of VDGG's messages at the beginning to all-on broadcasting at the end. Brilliant in my opinion.

hawkbrock | 5/5 |


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