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Van Der Graaf Generator - Vital CD (album) cover

VITAL

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

3.83 | 276 ratings

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VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review Nš 157

"Vital" is Van Der Graaf Generator's debut live album. It's the only live album of the group made during their two first musical periods and it marked also the end of Van Der Graaf Generator as a band until their last reunion in 2005. The album was recorded in 16 January 1978 at The Marquee Club in London and was released in July of the same year. As happened with the band's previous album, it was also only credited under the name of Van Der Graaf.

It has also the same line up of "The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome", plus the new band's member Charles Dickie. It shows also the return of their original saxophonist David Jackson, as a guest. So, the line up on the album is Peter Hammill (vocals, piano and guitars), Graham Smith (violin), Nick Potter (bass guitar), Guy Evans (drums) and Charles Dickie (cello, electric piano and synthesizer). David Jackson (saxophones and flute), appears as a guest musician.

My review of "Vital" is about the double CD remastered edition of 2005 with ten tracks. The first track "Ship Of Fools" is a live version of a song released as the B side of the single "Cat's Eye". "Cat's Eye" was released on "The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome". The second track "Still Life" is a live version of a song released on "Still Life". The third track "Last Frame" is a live version of a song released on "The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome". The fourth track "Mirror Images" is a live version of an unreleased song. It was released later on Hammill's "PH7". The fifth track "Medley: A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers" is a medley of two songs, "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" released on "Pawn Hearts" and "Sleepwalkers" released on "Godbluf". The sixth track "Pioneers Over C" is a live version of a song released on "H To He, Who Am The Only One". The seventh track "Sci-Finance" is a live version of an unreleased song. The eighth track "Door" is a live version of an unreleased song. The ninth track "Urban/Killer/Urban" is a live version of two songs. "Urban" is an unreleased song and "Killer" was released on "H To He, Who Am The Only One". The tenth track "Nadir's Big Chance" is a live version of a song released on Hammill's "Nadir's Big Chance".

About the performance on the album, I think we can say this is a very strange and curious live album. It contains some new material, recent material and some old favourite material. Yet, they are all played with a dark malignant air hanging around them. Maybe because we were in times of changes, in 1978, the times of punk rock movement. I've always thought "Vital" was one of the heaviest and aggressive live albums ever made, even for Van Der Graaf Generator's canon. When I'm saying heavy and agressive, I don't mean "heavy" in the Iron Maiden's sense of the word, and I don't mean "aggressive" in the King Crimson's sence, too. Listen to Potter's bass on "Nadir's Big Chance" and you can see what I'm saying, or Hammill's utterly rabid vocals at the end of "Ship Of Fools". Then, there's the sombre, crushing doom of "Still Life", which surpasses its studio predecessor. Listening to this it's not hard to imagine why Johnny Rotten was enthusiastic with them. Sometimes it seems like we are being hit by a car. Perhaps it was due to that they added a cello, because Hammill thought they were getting "too much extreme" live. To be fair there are some times when this album drags a bit with the heaviness and aggressivity of some of its live versions, and some other times it's performed much more closely faithful with the original studio versions. For instance, "Mirror Images" and "Medley: A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers" are the two and only tracks performed with the sound more close to the original sound of the group. By the other hand, "Still Life" is performed as if the paranoia, restfulness and the final resigned state of the song's subjects have exploded asunder. Still, it's the only official live album the band released in the 70's, even if it was performed with an atypical line up. But it still remains a great line up. It only lacks Hugh Banton.

Conclusion: I've heard people describe this album as a masterpiece and others as utterly detestable and criminal. I think none are right. Still, despite "Vital" be a very good live album I always was a bit disappointed with it. I expected much more of the first live album of a band like Van Der Graaf Generator. This is an album with a very savage heavy sound, with some punk influences, which was very unusual in them. By the other hand, the quality of the sound should be better, even on my remastered edition. I think there are two reasons for that. First, they were again with financial difficulties and they needed a record company to support them. In those times we were at the height of the punk movement and probably they thought that the change of their sound was an attempt to resolve that problem. Second, is the absence of their keyboardist and founder member Hugh Banton. I always considered his keyboard sound as one of the pillars of the group's sound. So, despite the high quality of the musicians who participated on the album and the return of David Jackson, the lack of his presence is clearly felt. Still, "Vital" remains, for me, an essential addition to any progressive rock collection, especially because it represents a great statement of the band and of those times of prog.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |

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