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Van Der Graaf Generator - Vital CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator

Eclectic Prog

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The Owl
1 stars Bloody awful! This did not exactly portray VDG in a good light, between the loud, sloppy crude playing of the final lineup and the bad mix. Should NEVER have been released. A live recording of the Banton/Jackson/Evans/Hammill lineup would've been far better. Ugly doesn't even begin to describe it.
Report this review (#8045)
Posted Wednesday, January 28, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars Yes, this is ugly, and so is life. The band plays furiously, and leaves the mutilated bodies of their originally beautiful songs in front of us. I think this is a very interesting live recording. There are songs from Hammill`s solo albums as well as from VDG/VDGG albums. "Still life" and "Mirror images" are both better here than in studio albums. "Last frame" and "Nadir`s big chance" work very well, but the rest of the album is too much for even me, a fanatic VDGG fan. Try this, if you dare. It is very difficult to rate this record, certainly it`s not average.
Report this review (#8048)
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars unlike previous reviewers i bought this album when it first came out and absolutely love it. from the opening sparse claps of the audience to hammills muted electrified les paul clicks- he launches into ship of fools. wait for the bass of nic potter (i am a great admirer of chris squire but what a sound !). the stand out track is the reinterpretation of still life with the haunting violin of graham smith hovering over the most" depressing view of life" lyrics you have ever heard.and then crash the whole band comes in and ROCKS with one hell of a riff. if you want music to invoke reaction try playing this with some friends and a few beers. i once emptied the whole 6th form common room when i played this at school in 1978. overall a metalic sheen with pumping bass and very atmospheric violin(plus jackson on sax from side 2 onwards. brilliance from peter h.and the band
Report this review (#8049)
Posted Friday, April 16, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars The magic of earlier VdGG records is missing. This recording is wild and loud, dominated by Hammill's loud over-amplified guitar work and the fierce playing of Guy Evans. The more dreamily styles of Banton & Jackson, we know from earlier recordings, are lacking. BUT 1978 isn't 1972. In 1978 the world wasn't actually hungry for prog-rock in style of early VdGG, Genesis, Yes etc. So this record is a great example of VdGG's ability to change, and I think the outcome is a VERY interesting record. I like the intimacy, I like the dark mood, and for some strange reason I like Hammill's loud guitar, especially the track "Pioneers Over C", sounds very interesting with the guitar and the sax playing together.

A very well accomplished update of the early VdGG material.

Report this review (#8050)
Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Take away from me that Nirvana so-called desperation, that punk rage, new wave minimalism, garage essentiality. This is real angst, Peter Hammill's furious madness - the screamed 'Ship Of Fools', the hallucinated violin introduction to 'Last Frame', the darkest 'Pioneers Over C' ever heard and the incredible 'Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers' medley! This was real life, no show - in the years to come Peter will leave the stage at audience's applause, only wanting silence. Progressive music, has been said, choose to abandon the real world - politics, society - to live in a fantasy realm... well, Hammill didn't: he told us about his phantoms, about fear of living, solitude, anguish and isolation ('These days I mainly just talk to plants and dogs / all human contacts are painful, risky and odds' - so he sang on 'Meurglys III'). Live this album, this is no fantasy, no Roger Dean (God bless him), but it's prog!
Report this review (#8051)
Posted Tuesday, June 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is one of those albums that take several listens to grow accustomed to. I also bought it when it first came out when I was a freshman in college in Florida, and was so appalled by what I heard that I was compelled to write a scathing review for the school newspaper (never to be published because everyone uniformly replied, "Who the heck are Van der Graaf?"). But in years to come, and especially now, I come back to this album over and over. The sloppiness in places is still difficult to listen to (Pioneers), but in other places it adds to the impact of the music (Door, Ship of Fools) in a way that conventional musicianship would have not. Peter Hammill is not anyone's ideal of a lead guitar player, but then neither is Lou Reed. Sure, you miss Hugh's organ playing, but this album, given the patience of repeated listenings, is a rough diamond.
Report this review (#8052)
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This would have 5 stars and over, but it's not essential if you think that Prog ended with ELP's 'Love Beach' and started again with Marillion. If you ever wondered why Prog Rock was/is called progressive start here. This live set could appeal to Clash/Stranglers (excuse moi) devotees as much as to the disconcerned Prog listener, it's a blissfull mess of styles, and if ever anyone thought that the two spectrums (punk/prog) are a universe away from each other simply listen to this. Hammill shouts his soul out and gets his messages across as never before and the band play straight, if forcefully forward and a few of the old songs get a quite a heavy face-lift. Every note played shows why music lives/progresses, though nothing is performed to perfection. You want to hear a version of 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' live, you want to hear it (very) different and here you get it. Slowed down, mutilated, medley-ed and played (almost) without any of the original musicians, an updated, timely version...why? Because Prog was ill (!!!) in these days and only a few recognized it, Peter Hammill (and VdG) among them. VdGG music was always about body,soul and mind and here they actually play it: uninhibited, raw, uncompromising and, yes, punk-ish. The missing piece in your whatever-happened-to-puzzle...listen at your peril, your sanity, your open-mindedness, but listen!
Report this review (#8054)
Posted Friday, October 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars This is the only live album that his seminal group ever released and it was their farewell shows them under an unusual line-up. This version of the group has all the participans of the unsettling but still interesting TQZ/TPD , plus a cellist(!?!? An excellent initiative! I wonder why they waited so long) and the return as a guest of Jackson. The remastered version corrects a mistake done with the original Cd release as it adds the two tracks previously omitted for space/length reasons. But although not operating miracles , again the remastering job profitsa nuber of tracks , ven takes a rough and abrupt edges to some songs to render them easer to get "accustomed" to without tampering with their rawness/integrity . So be assured that the legendary raw ower is fully reproduced ( and also the full one night Marquee concert) , only the images lacking.

One of the interesting/intriguing aspect of this album is how they adapted their oldermaterial to fit the new line-up especially wth the two string instruments to pick up the void left by the absence of Banton's keyboards. Well I can tell you that this is partially successful even giving goosebumps at the start of the Lighthouse Keepers suite , but unfortunately not daring to do it in its entirity and sliping in one of my least fave track Sleepwalkers. But I am going a little quick here, as before that, the Generator-less VDG had given us a rawer version of Ship Of Fools (much better than the studio version IMHO) and then really charmed us with Still Life with a delighting opening section , hammill singing out to Smith's violin and being stunningly underlined by Dickie's cello. Clearly all the older tracks were well adapted as they gain a new life with the arrangements for cello-violin pair, but unortunately also for Hammill's rather medium guitar playing. Last Frame and Mirror Images (extended for the former from the previous album and a new track for the latter) and passes smoothly, but cleary the next hihlight is the Plague track already discussed above, bu unfortunately (for me anyway) dipping all to soon in Sleepwalkers with Guest Jackson finally appearing and the track returning to the final notes of Plague.

The second disc (it was originally a double vinyl but only released as such in Japan) starts with another delightful treat in an extended Pioneers Over C, with rather odd choices such as the use of a crunching guitar, the violin-cello duo intervening later. Potter finally getting to replay his bass lines, and violin then sax improvs , but also the crunching guitar riffs makes this version different (but not better) and more brutal. Sci-Finance is a rather sub-par track and it is easy to see why it got the axe from the selection , Door somehow escaping that very same fate by being an original track not yet available elsewhere, both being very raw and no remastering job being able to change much to the difficult sound recording that night. New track Urban is next and incorporates Killer , really showing the band cooking up towards the end of the show and as an encore , the title track from one of Hammill's solo album makes the end of the second disc a bit rough on my nerves.

The most interest I found in this album I the adaptation of the classic tracks , the rest of the stuff only confirmng the direction Hammill had takenfrom his Nadir solo album. The remastering job having done what as feasable , the sound being sometimes over-saturated from the over-energetic VDG. Let me prefer the Generator version

Report this review (#8055)
Posted Tuesday, December 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars First, let's put things in perspective. This is '77/'78. Most prog bands at this point were floundering at best. This album not only redifined these songs, but improved on them. I am a die-hard VDGG fan/defender (you have to be both), and while Hugh Banton was integral to VDGG, he was also a bit of the problem. While I love MKI, only Godbluff stands from the second period. And MKI was also a flawed effort at times. But here you have what I consider to be the ultimate din Hammill was looking for. "Ship of Fools" opens with almost a punk/metal assault, sure to send any DREAM THEATER "appreciater" scurrying for his GIT textbooks. It is a shame that Jackson missed the first side, (one can only imagine his contribution to this and the next song). And the next song...Freed from Banton, "Still Life" takes on a passion and rawness that the sterile environment of the eponymous album never approached. I would take Nic Potter over Hugh Banton any day (see PH-"Room Temperature"). The string intro, followed by the cacophony of the bass and guitar (so he's no Steve Howe, how about Neil Young), to the horrific outro...Great! I don't want to go song by song, but each one is better than the original and reworked for the new band and time. And this is no small feat, considering most prog at this point was considered mindless fairy-tale passivity. Not only is VDGG validated in their ability to change with the times, but also in the fact that the songs they drew from were not to be dismissed. I would not recommend this as a starting point,(because you will be disappointed with the originals). Start with anything from "Godbluff" backwards, and "Quiet Zone" is OK (try PH7 instead). Dismiss "Still Life" and "World Record". I've tried to listen to them for years and can't do it. But if you are only going to buy one, this is the one. 5 stars. Essential then, essential now.
Report this review (#8056)
Posted Monday, December 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars If you are an absolute stickler and don't accept anything that wasn't recorded by the "classic" line-up of Hammill, Banton, Jackson and Evans, then this is not the album for your ears. If you are a fan of the band's openness and willingness to explore new sonic territory, then this album is essential. The new line-up marked their territory by re-working some classic VdGG numbers, as well as bringing some newer material to the table. If there is one word to characterize their treatment of the songs, it would have to be "heavy". Whether it's the liquid metal assault of the album's opener, "Ship of Fools" or the emotionally intense "Still Life", the band tears into each number with an absolute ferocity which is unparalleled in earlier recordings. Considering the relatively recent formation of this particular line-up, it is remarkable to hear how tight they were as a unit on this particular outing. At the same time, they never sound too rehearsed, and so their freshness of playing together is very apparent. The album featured the return of Nic Potter on bass, sounding heavier and anything unlike his earlier incarnation on the band's ealrier outings. Here, his bass is nasty and fuzzed out, and together with the newly added string section of violinist Smith and cellist Dickie, they make for a very interesting replacement of Banton's missing organ. While Jackson is on the album, a technical problem caused his tracks to be lost, and so his parts had to be taken from other indirect sources, causing him to not be almost absent in the final mix. Fans of Hammill's raw guitar playing will love this recording, as he is all over it. He tears sounds out of his guitar with the same intensity as he does with his voice. This band was so far ahead of it's time and were willing to push the limits of what progressive could be, regardless of what old-timers expected to hear. Vital is just as it's title implies, sounding more relevant today than it ever has.
Report this review (#8057)
Posted Tuesday, May 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album may not have the best of sounds, but it shows the band at the peak of their energy, and there never has been a more brutal bass guitar than that of Nic Potter on this album. Hammill is in excellent form and screams away at the top of his lungs. The opener "Ship of Fools" is a real killer. The adding of a cello works wonderfully for tracks like "Still Life" and "Pioneers Over c" (watch out for the part where violin and cello go manic at high tempo while the bass guitar suddenly starts playing the slow rhythm of the begiing again). The only thing I hate is that the CD version misses 2 tracks (I can't get hold of the Japanese pressing), so I am really looking forward to the remastering Virgin is going to do this year and hope they won't leave out any tracks this time. One of my absolutely favorite live albums ever. Raw Power!
Report this review (#8060)
Posted Saturday, May 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars I love the raw, sloppy, ugly, rambling live versions of VDGG songs here. If you don't, forget the album. If you do, you might (and I say might) like it. Especially the first song grabs me and moves me into it. 'Still Life'is harder on me because I like the studio version. Call it exquisitely painful. 'Mirror Image' is goosebumps all the way. As with all VDGG, you like it or you don't. And in both cases you would be right.
Report this review (#37940)
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Work announced in 1978 "Vital/Van Der Graaf Live". Live album announced after group dissolves. There is respect that may be called punk rock, too. All like the guitar, the violin, the cello, and Vocal, etc. are brutal performances. Japanese version of the CD also contained the tracks "Sci-Finance" and "Nadir's Big Chance".
Report this review (#47232)
Posted Sunday, September 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Vital" was not the best way to end Van Der Graaf's recording career at the late seventies, but still may be called as an welcome addition to their catalogue, since there are a few live recordings by this great band ("Maida Vale" and some tracks at "The Box"). I don't have the Japanese CD version, which is the only one with all tracks of the original vynil, but with the inclusion of "Sci-Finance" at "The Box", only "Nadir's Big Chance" is MIA. This album has a major fault: the sound quality is a bit poor. But this is more than compensated with a really energic performance, making some of these performances actually better than their studio counterparts, like "Still Life" (which benefits by the inclusion of Charles Dickie's cello), "Pioneers Over C" and "Urban/Killer/Urban". The star of the show is IMHO Nic Potter, with his fuzzy bass sound. "Vital" is a good live album which bravely stood the test of time and is highly recommended for any VDGG fan.
Report this review (#48151)
Posted Saturday, September 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Unfortunately I only have heard the shortened original CD reissue, I need to track down the remaster! Keep that in mind when reading this review . . .

On the whole I think this is a very under-rated album. The year was 1978 and London was hardly buzzing with the sounds of prog rock at the time! But believe it or not VDGG was one of Johnny "Rotten" Lydon's favorite bands as a teen -- and you can hear a bit of influence from Hammill's singing style there (also in Iron Maiden's vocals, and they came on the scene right about this time too.) My point being, "Vital" seems to be somewhat influenced by the punk sound of the day -- Hammill plays LOUD electric guitar (not typical of VDGG at all!) -- a bit of an older generation giving back / showing up the younger generation they influenced. (Though it's almost a bit sad in a way too, like you can tell the band is about to break up -- the times they were a-changin' -- and considering what bands like Yes & Genesis were doing in the 80's, probably a good thing!!!)

Of course this is still Van der Graaf however, so the structures and complexities of the music are far, far beyond any punk rock!! The older material in these arrangements is somewhat interesting, but I think a lot of the best songs are the non-LP ones, like "Door" and "Ship of Fools."

On the downside, the mix is pretty lousy -- normally Jaxon would use several tracks to record the saxophone, on account of all the electronic effects he used. Here he's squashed into one track and not mixed very high. But then this one is really more about the traditional rock instruments: guitar, bass & drums.

Report this review (#51020)
Posted Sunday, October 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is very RAW, infact more raw than the earlier albums, cause this is a live album, filled with imho the best songs they ever recorded. It starts off with an unreleased song called Ship Of Fools and what a song it is, Hammill screams his lungs out. The next song is Still Life and this version is MUCH better than the studio version, much more true to the lyrics (its about his ex-wife, and when recorded in 76 they split, and now it have more substance than on Still Life) The next song is Last Frame from The Quiet Zone, this one is also better than on the studio version, then comes an unreleased song called Mirror Images, this one was later recorded on PH7, but this version is much more sublime and rock`s much more than the ph7 version, Then we get the BIG medley which starts of with A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers, Oh man what a stunning version, It grabs your balls and never let go, hot damn what a freak out version, this song is worth the album alone, then it glides into Sleepwalkers which is stunning as always, Then comes another unreleased song called Door, a left over from the Quiet Zone, a decent song, but probably the weakest of em, Then we get yet an unreleased song called Urban, also very good then slides into Killer which is a song i never liked that much, but its Ok, then the album rounds off with an incredible version of Nadir`s Big Chance from Hammill`s solo album with the same title, A great way to close to concert with. Overall A very raw and punchy record, By the way the sound quality is much better on the remastered version, where i found the earlier version a bit tad and muffly in sound.

Buy buy buy this now if you like van der graaf generator, It is also a very good introduction to the band....

Report this review (#84290)
Posted Thursday, July 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars My first VDGG live experience dates from October 1976. It was probably not a tremendous adventure since I do not remember lots of of this concert at the Cirque Royal in Brussels. I only was a seventeen year-old fan wanting to access a live VDGG performance (one of my top ten band of that era).

When I listen to this live record, I can only agree with Hughes and say that their concerts were really difficult to get into. Not even to mention to record such a moment. Vital is definitely not a great live moment.

Sound is on par with average bootlegs at time. Track list is not great and some numbers really should not have been on this first official VDGG live album like "Ship Of Fools" (bonus track on the remastered version of "The Quiet Zone") and "Mirror Images" (from Hammill solo career).

Of course, by the time, it was the only one available.

Too few magical moments. Poor renditions of great track like "Still Life" (a real massacre). The "Medley" with bits and bites from "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is not too bad a moment. This live album won't get into our memories of great live renditions, definitely.

There are recent non-official material from the band that are worthwhile. One of them has been recorded in London in 2005 during their reunion tour: If you can get hold of that one, have a try, it is really worth. The tracklist is superb and the sound OK. FYI, they played : "The Undercover Man", "Scorched Earth", "Refugees", "Every Bloody Emperor", "Lemmings", "In the Black Room", "Darkness", "Masks", "Childlike Faith In Childhood's End", "The Sleepwalkers", "Man-Erg", "Killer" and "Wondering". This is the vital VDGG, right ?

Instead, this one, after three or four spins reminds peacefully in my "CD theque".

Two stars for this not vital effort.

Report this review (#108429)
Posted Monday, January 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
3 stars Van Der Graaf Generator live is something wonderful. Unfortunately, finding it isn't the easiest of tasks. Up until this point an offical live album had not been released. At last though, VDGG (or if you want to be technical VDG) fans who never got a chance to see them live, could at least "live" the experience. First and foremost, an interesting line-up is presented, with guitar, bass, violin, and cello. For me it gives them a great sound. Granted, it can't totally replace Jackson's sax (which thankfully makes a "Guest" appearance here), but it really gives them a full sound. Needless to say, the playing on Vital is impeccable, with every musician given his chance to shine.

The first thing I notice about this album is the hard rockingness of many of the songs. Tracks like Ship Of Fools, Pioneers Over C, and Killer are played much more aggressively then their studio counterparts. Also, with the inclusion of these new sounds many of the songs sound fresh and new, which I always like to see/hear in a live album. The inclusion of previously unreleased material is very much appreciated. Urban and Sci-Fience are especially strong tracks, that I would have loved to have a studio version of. The second most obvious things about this record is the sound quality. Now, I have the 2005 remastered CD, and I can firmly say that I love the sound of this live album, even though it is not perfect. It is not muddied or overly raw, but it still keeps the feel of a live setting. (As a side note: I have heard other VDGG live tracks which the sound quality was absolutly atrocious and did not do justice to such wonderful music. For that fact I was reluctant to buy this CD at first, but luckily they really picked it up for this one).

Now on to the bad, which is limited. First about the sound: The drums, voice, and guitar really steal the show. There are times where it is really hard to hear the cello and especially the sax, and some of that comes from it being drowned out by the other instruments. That is also my major complaint about this album. However, a track or two seemed to be cut strangely, but it doesn't affect the song. But, the crowd noise is kept to a minimum, as are sections of applause.

All in all, this is a fine live album which shows this phase of Van Der Graff off in its full glory. While there are a few problems here and there with the sound, there is enough pros in this album to have it be worthy of owning. For fans of the band, this is an essential purchase (espcially since live material is rare). For casual prog fans it is a nice addition for your collection. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#111598)
Posted Sunday, February 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars A cool live performance. Though some classical songs like Still Life happen to be slightly twisted, VDGG(VDG, I guess) shows a nice energy, the kind of energy I'd expect on a gig of this particular band(specially with young Hammill handling an electric guitar). The violin-cello combo works out well counterbalancing the heavy guitar work. Pioneers over c got pretty cool on the album and the medley is excellent(the piano intro kills me) and the new songs are surprisingly rocky and good. Ship of Fools has a King Crimson taste(it reminds me of Red and 21st Century...) and opens up the record pretty well(if only it was present in a previous album, with Banton on the Hub...). But Vital has its cons: Too much emphasis was given to the vocals and electric guitar that is hard to pay attention on the other instrumental parts, but that is a matter of production, I guess. And a crucial point: It sounds nice but it doesn't sound like classical VDGG(it even doesn't sound much like The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome). Banton's abscence is a pity. Maybe a live album of the kick-ass-quartet would have been much more pleasant, we just can wonder. Not essencial but not to be thrown away either. The VDGG(and VDG) fans, already familiar with their discography should appreciate it. But that is not a good choice if one's just started in the VDGG world (actually that album should be the last Graaf's record to be heard).
Report this review (#171834)
Posted Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Although the remastered issue is still imperfect it is leaps and bounds better than the original dbl LP. The sound is raw maybe but its raw because it was played that way. Jaxons sax will never be completely restored as there was a fault in his line and so his one track on the original master tape had no sound on it. However Guy rescued his contribution by finding the passages were the sound bled onto other channels and working from there. I used not to like this LP to much mainly because VDG were not VDGG and because it seemed wrong that this line up was the only one to record a live record. However since Real Time I have started to see this set in a different light. When it says the most extreme live band release the most extreme live LP, they hit the nail on the head. VDG is a far more adrenalin fueled band than even VDGG. This set is also Historically very interesting as it captures a progressive band that is not intimidated by the new wave and punk but is in fact feeding that revolution in its own unique way. I have always liked Nic Potters bass playing and on this record he is absolutely wonderful. A real gritty and disturbing sound at times perhaps but he is almost always perfectly in time with Guy Evens. The Highlight is of course pioneers over c which is given a complete reworking, fantastically heavy at times it also has all of the subtleties of the original without being in any way a slavish copy. Potter really makes his mark on this track leaving me wondering what if ? The Violin and Cello doesnt leave much room for Jaxon which is a shame, as he seems to have been on top form for this concert never putting a foot wrong when you can make out what he is playing. Smith was always a fantastic musician, string driven thing being one of the great unsung heroes of the Charisma label. Peter is as always utterly brilliant with his operatic voice perfectly matched by this overblown but truly Vital sound. Finally I get it, and this has to be down in part to the excellent qualities of the remaster, but is also a testament to how far ahead of the pack VDG were. There are no bad tracks here , however mirror Image stands out as a great track. The version of Still life is even more harrowing than the original and when the Band thump in....well its one of the highlights of this surprisingly strong set. If you are a VDGG fan you will already have this but if you don't yet have the remastered CD I strongly recommend it to you as it is a vast improvement on the LP. I am really tempted to give this all 5 stars and but for the loss of Jaxon's sax Parts I would. However it is worth 4 stars without any problems at in. So there you go a 4.4 in reality. A must own record by a must own band. I suppose if VDG had survived a little longer some of these tracks would have made up their next LP we will of course never know what it would have been like but on the evidence here I suspect it would have been a real corker. The Encore restored for this release is the excellent Nadir's Big Chance One of the very first true British Punk rock tracks ever recorded. Utterly Vital !!
Report this review (#174287)
Posted Wednesday, June 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Van Der Graaf's Live show captured is a vital experience

Van der Graaf Generator's 'Vital' is a concert performance in their last days and as a record of the incredible raw power this band exuded, it is a vital entry into the catalogue of VDGG albums. The double CD is worth getting for the extra 2 tracks and seems to have better sound quality in its remastered version. The live tracks boast the unique sound of VDGG and features lyrics that are dangerously close to the edge and Peter Hammill's vocals are like no other. He can croon smoothly, almost whisper along a minimalist approach that may feature a mere Hammond Organ, or he can scream as a cacophony of sound erupts. The live sound meanders between serene tranquillity to atomic energy.

CD 1 begins with Ship of Fools which is as bizarre a track played live as in the studio. It is easy to see why this band are musical pioneers and boundary pushing visionaries. The energy of the live performance is astonishing. Hammill is turned well up in the mix, perhaps too screechy at times, and the Hammond is let loose along with the soaring sax. Still Life follows, perhaps the best track from the aforementioned album, and is played magnificently, very subtle, almost minimalist in places and then the wall of sound erupts. Last Frame works well enough with the violin, Hammond and percussion; an oddity of musical virtuosity.

Mirror Images is an intriguing piece and then we are treated with the piece de resistance - the medley Plague of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers. Both of which are brilliant in the studio from Pawn Hearts and Godbluff, 2 quintessential VDGG albums make no mistake, but they lose something in the live version. Both only clock in at some 13 minutes and are heavily edited. I did not like the way Lighthouse was edited as it's my fave track of VDGG. However it was pleasant to hear this version in many respects. It begins softly and then launches into the maelstrom of sound and verbal music psychosis that is VDGG. The Hammond and sax take us deeper into the abyss and VDGG really let loose with wild staccato riffs and a monstrous finale where everything just explodes into a paroxysm of uncontrolled mayhem. It's a killer track and moves from romanticism with piano elegy only to explode into a doom-laden soundwave with wild saxophones screaming over unfriendly sounds such as Dickie's keyboards and Guy Evan's off-kilter percussion. 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' was the first track I had heard from this amazing band that tells the story of an eyewitness who sees the unspeakable as he feels his body fading in a storm while voyaging on a doomed ship. It reminds one of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (check Iron Maiden's take on this poem). The narrator notes "I prophesy disaster and then I count the cost. I shine but shining, dying I know that I am almost lost." The piano gets faster and seems to be falling down an abyss. There is a brief interlude that reminds one of a ship floating on an endless ocean and we hear the lonely saxophone blasts that resemble bizarre fog horns. You can almost picture the image of a ghost ship sailing through fog and there's a genuinely creepy ambience. The song takes on a darker atmosphere and Hammill begins to use his patented gravel tone to sing of spectres that scratch on windows, hollowed faces, and lost mastheads that pierce the freezing dark. There are several parts that flash by until the track moves to Presence of the Night/ Kosmos Tours. Jackson's saxophone really shines in this section and a weird time signature locks in, with Hammill singing "Why can't I let me live and be free, but I die very slowly alone." A beautiful Hammond sound fills the void and the tempo ignites to a frenetic pace where it spirals blissfully out of control. Then it all ends suddenly and the gorgeous piano reverberates to a melancholic contemplative Hammill who asks "Lighthouses might hold the key but can I reach the door?" It's a lovely moment after all the mayhem preceding, then the next section begins suddenly with Hammill's rasping vocals and short jagged spurts of noise from Jackson and Evans. At times the sound seems curiously off kilter, out of tune and rhythm but it all gels perfectly into the tranquil finale. You can take what you will from the potent lyrics but all is sung with absolute conviction which makes the piece all the more intriguing. It is a ballad of gothic grandeur in every sense that constantly surprises with its complex twisting structure.

CD 2 begins brilliantly with Pioneers Over C; at 17 minutes in length it is another highlight. 2 very rare tracks follow with Sci-Finance and Door, that were not released on an album in the 70s and they are interesting but a little forgettable. I love the version of Urban/Killer/Urban that really hits you between the eyes. Nadir's Big Chance is from Hammill's solo album and is perhaps the best he has done. The live version is lacking vocally but the intention is as full of conviction as other Hammill performances.

The album is best purchased in the 2 CD remastered format with a terrific booklet about the live show. The CD has some blazing numbers that really jolt you to your senses. It does not all work perfectly and is chaotic in places but it works as an emotional rollercoaster; brooding, with interchanging time signatures, long and contemplative and experimental to the max. You can hardly hear the crowd and there are some uncomfortable silences but it is compelling listening that draws you in deeper as it progresses. It has the feeling of emptiness or something ending, which is exactly what was happening - the band itself. It is not a starting point for someone interested in discovering the band, but it works as a supplement to the studio offerings of one of the best eclectic psychedelic bands of the 70s. A band that continues to perform live and produce great music to this day.

Report this review (#209343)
Posted Monday, March 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars When I heard this album for the first time, I had to overcome one major stumbling block: my own expectation. This album wasn't the least like I had expected. VDGG had introduced a rough edge to their sound since they regrouped in 1975, but little did I know that this edge had become so sharp in a live setting. I quite liked the new songs on it but I thought the VDGG classics were a massacre.

This incarnation of VDGG has an entirely different line up. No Hugh Banton organ and, except for a few tracks, also no David Jackson. The losses were compensated by the return of Nick Potter on bass, Graham Smith on violin and a certain Dickie on cello. Also Hammill's quircky electric guitar comes more to the fore and, if you still had your hopes up for some melodic pleasure, also his harsh vocals won't add any.

The heavily distorted bass of Potter and Evans' compulsive drumming take the lead, creating a blunt and bleak stab of energy and passion. Depending on your predisposition that will either mean ugly or awesome. In the 20 years since my first exposure to this side of VDGG, my judgement has changed along similar lines, from ugly to stunning. In retrospect, this was the album that initiated me to the harsh energy of punk. In fact, this album has a certain grunge and punk vibe rather then a prog one. It's as if the Melvins or NoMeansNo were doing a set of VDGG songs.

Another word of advice (which goes for all VDGG albums). Please throw away any of the first generation CDs you might have bought. They are all simply horrible. Instead you get your hands on the great 2005 re-releases. They will make you forget the flat mid-range of the initial CD releases and will bring the sound of the original vinyl back. That certainly goes for Vital, where the reissue also restores the original track list.

This live album reveals a side of VDGG that won't please every fan, but the live adrenaline just pours out of the speakers. Besides, it has an advantage over many other live albums. Instead of bringing live clones of the originals, this album will truly add something to your collection, a disturbing view on this band for instance.

Report this review (#275202)
Posted Monday, March 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Perhaps this sits much better in a punk-rock collection, even though this is no simple punk rock, either.

One of the things I always loved about Vital is it's raw playing and the best (and probably only) prog/punk hybrid ever. What a show!

I don't know how does the original pressing compares with the 2005 Remaster (the one I have), but the sound of the latter is crystal clear enough to hear every nuance but not enough to miss the edge, which is damn nice item in my book. Here you get to hear PH's flagerised guitar and sweetly obnoxious voice, Potter's amazing fuzz bass (something I think he, alongside Hugh Hopper, is a king of), Guy's jazzy drumming, Smith's lovely violins, Dickie's compressed cello and electric synthesizer and synthesized electric piano, and even Jackson's bleeded unrecorded saxes, a real joy to hear. Not quite, because Vital is an as uncomfortable listening experience as it gets, where the listener is constantly challenged and reminded to pay attention, the mark of an essential live record and the why this one is so high in my list, maybe even more than Live At Leeds.

What I like the most about it is the inclusion of the then-unreleased stuff like the paranoid "Ship Of Fools" or the angry medley of "Urban/Killer/Urban", and Charles Dickie's homemade synthesizer (the same from The Future Now) adding atmosphere such as the sequences on "Door" or the processed noise at the end of "A Plague Of Sleepwalkers", which may look like little but makes a whole lot of difference.

The album opens with some uncertain applause just before Hammill plays some notes to test the air and then proceeds with the riff from "Ship Of Fools", a ferocious rocker with a nice violin/guitar/cello bridge; "Still Life" contains some of the best fuzz bass I've ever heard, doubling the guitar, and somehow I don't feel disappointed about this rework; "Last Frame"'s intro is a teaser for the forthcoming brutality, another piece of Hammill's constant question of identity; this version of "Mirror Images" is much superior than the one from pH7, it opens with some violin-dominated gloomy intro before it becomes a bittersweet ballad of sorts; "A Plague Of Sleepwalkers" is a medley, of course, but just as the reworking of "Still Life", there's enough elements to make it special such as the extended intro and moving ending; "Pioneers Over C" is the only song I think could have been trimmed or made differently, but just because the sax wasn't recorded to make the solo audible enough; "Sci-Finance" in this form is a monster, contrary to the dreaded version from In A Foreign Town; "Door" is odd and Peter himself admits it, but that doesn't mean it isn't good; "Urban/Killer/Urban" begins with a jam and ends in a similar way, the stuff within is just as good as all the rest; and "Nadir's Big Chance" closes Vital with an angular, slightly sloppy version.

I understand this isn't prog as such and prog fans may not be interested in this sort of stuff, but prog or not, this is excellent enough as a live record to ignored.

Report this review (#454948)
Posted Monday, May 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars The second (and much longer) VdGG hiatus was heralded by this live album, which presents the Van der Graaf lineup (plus the guest starring David Jackson) in a raw, angry, noisy, furious performance from the Quiet Zone tour. Presenting a mixture of material from that album, reconfigured older songs (on which Graham Smith's violin works surprisingly well), and a few tracks original to this release, this album is best experienced either as the original LP set or as the 2005 2CD remaster - previous CD editions having omitted tracks. It's aggressive, brutal and right at the progressive cutting edge, a living reminder that VdGG were always the darkest and most sinister of the major British prog bands, and what better way to herald the end of the golden age of prog with a raucous performance of Nadir's Big Chance as an encore?
Report this review (#557571)
Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars If any band could combine the raw emotive power of punk with the complexity, polish and bombast of progressive rock, it was Van Der Graaf generator. Nowhere was this more evident than on this brilliant live recording. Mix King Crimson or early Genesis with MC5 and you get the picture...almost. Words simply can not do this justice. Perhaps VDGG is an acquired taste, but if you have an open ear and an open mind give "Vital" a listen. I dare you to listen to "Pioneers Over C" or " A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and not be beguiled. Rather than simply try to reproduce the brilliance of their studio albums, they present a stripped down, rawer version of VdGG with all the complexity, power and darkness on display.
Report this review (#939111)
Posted Thursday, April 4, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars This live album is not for the faint of heart. David Jackson is back for this recording of a 1978 concert, but this is the Van Der Graaf lineup, which means that Hugh Banton's hammond organ is nowhere to be found (there's a lot of Graham Smith's violin, though, as well as cello from a newcomer named Charles Dickie). In addition, about half of the material was previously unreleased (some would later end up on Hammill solo albums), and the other half is transformed in ways that aren't necessarily for the better. Throw in that the recording quality is sketchy (Jackson may be present but he's a non-factor for a lot of it), and that Hammill is often more interested in yelling than in singing, and you have an album that only a die-hard fan could love, and one that anybody else could potentially hate.

Well, I don't quite hate it, and I kinda like it in spots. I actually quite like the medley of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "Sleepwalkers" that concludes the first half; the editing process eliminates some of the aspects I like of each track (the hard-rock groove of "Sleepwalkers" is nowhere near as powerful as before), but it also gets rid of a lot of the bad in "Plague," and the final product is one I basically find enjoyable. Plus, I feel like the violin is a great addition to the arrangement of "Plague," one that adds a lot of atmosphere.

The other familiar tracks have ups and downs, to say the least. "Still Life" trades the low-key intensity of the original (which only hinted at fully fury at times but never remotely approached it) for a louder, screamier intensity, with grumbling guitars and violin that feels a bit like a pest at times. Still, while there's nowhere near the same depressing stomach- punch effect that the original provided in its best moments, I find there's a weird charm in the overpowered bass, over-thumped drums and over-dramatic violin parts of this one. It won't convert somebody who's never heard the original, but somebody who likes the original but doesn't feel a tight connection with all of its little details could like this one.

Of the other two familiar tracks, "Last Frame" never impressed me much beyond its introduction, and this one is about the same, while "Pioneers over c" is, well, an acquired taste that might not be worth acquiring. The original was fantastic, but this is 17 minutes long (much longer than the original) and obliterates most of the atmosphere of the original, replacing it with a lot of screaming and grumbly guitars and a lot of out-of-control loud fuzz- bass. The basic skeleton of the piece is more or less the same, and I have enough residual familiarity with and love for the original that I can find some enjoyment in grooving along the various parts, but I like the original way more.

Of the other tracks, the best of the lot is definitely the closing "Nadir's Big Chance," the excellent title track of the excellent 1975 Hammill solo album, and it turns out to be a good fit for an ensemble best suited (based on their other performances) for making a lot of artsy punkish racket. The other tracks are definitely artsy punkish racket, with jazzy elements thrown in (especially on "Urban," which incorporates snippets of "Killer" during the mid- section and is thus labeled "Urban/Killer/Urban"), but they ramble a lot without leaving much of an impression (other than some nice riffs in "Ship of Fools" and "Urban"). The general approach and combination of instruments is novel enough that I wouldn't mind hearing this material again once in a great while, but something to hold onto beyond style and interesting timbre would be nice.

As with Quiet Zone, listening to this leaves me with little surprise that the band broke up as soon thereafter as it did. For whatever good that's in here, the final product sounds like a tense novelty at best, and it should say something that, as somebody who overrates prog-related live albums as easily as I breathe, I have to struggle a bit to pull out bits that I like. Buy it at your own peril.

Report this review (#1020989)
Posted Tuesday, August 20, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Vital is absolutely vital for any Van Der Graaf Generator fan. Fans should be diving into the live stuff to increase their collections, so this should already be in there. What I really like about Vital is that it is less like anything studio related, and more like a raw concert with the great musicianship and vocal performances you would expect. If you are new to the group, this is not a place to start. You are better off getting familiar with Pawn Hearts, Godbluff, Still Life, and the rest of their amazing studio albums. Once you have gone that route, this album will please as an amazing live offering from an early lineup. I would not call this essential to any progressive rock fan since Van Der Graaf Generator is an acquired taste, but a must buy for any fan of the group.
Report this review (#1598642)
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Vital" is indeed a strange beast within the Van der Graaf Generator canon. Very much a love it/hate it effort, it marked the end of the band in their classic 1970s period. But, what everyone seems to agree about is that this double vinyl live record presents the band in their most aggressive, brutal and extreme offering.

Long time ago I had an oppportunity to borrow this LP and listen to it a few times but was not much impressed. I even thought at times that it was absolutely horrible sound-wise, except for wonderful "Mirror Images", which was far superior as performed here than in the studio version on Peter Hammill's "Ph7" solo album, not least due to fantastic Nick Potter's bass playing. Perhaps it was the murky production, bad mixing or whatever, but the sound was pretty irritating. And although I had already been acquainted with many punk rock classics, this VdG version of it did not make much sense to me.

Fast forward to the digital millenial era when VdGG not only re-formed in their classic line-up, but when their back catalogue saw digital remastering courtesy of Virgin Records, who had acquired the rights to old Charisma label. This 2005 double-disc release of "Vital" sounds far more superior and cleaner than the original 1978 vinyl record, thanks to Peter Hammil and the band who supervised digital remastering of the old tapes produced by drummer Guy Evans. Unfortunately, sax wizard Dave Jackson (who was briefly back to the foil following his departure in early 1977) is still barely audible on several tracks, but as he explains in the liner notes, this was due to technical problem during original live recording process when Jackson's entire audio track was deleted, so Evans tried to pick up the traces of saxophone from other available tracks. Nonetheless, the sound is amazingly heavy, with Potter's fuzzy bass up front in the mix (which I like), often at the expense of other players (which is not very good). Besides him, Hammill shouts and screams and slashes electric guitar with his imperfect playing in a way "MC5 meets Sex Pistols", while violin virtuoso Graham Smith often provides lead melodic lines instead of absent keyboards and buried saxes, particularly in older songs. Newcomer Charles Dickie's cello provides some nice backing to several tracks but his credited keyboards are very hard to detect.

Actually, when considered in a broader respect of Peter Hammill's entire career, "Vital" now seems much more consistent with his experiment-minded spirit and his urge to make "pop music" in rather unconventional ways. At the time when this album was recorded (January 1978) many other prog rock bands (with which VdGG were often lumped together rather supeficially) became caricatures of themselves, either losing ideas entirely or going pop-mainstream-arena. Hammill and VdG embraced punk and new wave instead, using these trends to facilitate their own expressions and ideas and to offer them to new and diverse audiences. In a way, Hammill was even considered an early progenitor of British punk with his "Nadir's Big Chance" solo LP of 1975, and according to some sources he even coined the term "punk rock", at least in UK, two years before rock journalists adopted it during the 1977 Pistols craze. In the early 1980s Hammill formed the K-Group with VdG rhythm section Evans/Potter and John Ellis, ex-guitarist of the British punk rock band the Vibrators, whose 1977 album "Pure Mania" should have been considered one of the classics of the genre. This excellent line-up backed Hammill on his several solo LPs and live gigs providing an uptempo post-punk new wave sound. Shortly before that in the early 1980, Hammill appeared as a guest (along with Robert Fripp!) on the Stranglers concert dedicated to their imprisoned vocalist Hugh Cornwell, singing "Tank" from their acclaimed (and probably most downright punkish) "Black and White" album. Taking all this into account, "Vital" seems more natural product of the late 1970s when genres and styles blended and influenced each other back and forth.

Now, back to the CD. Practically all songs, apart from some older material, are killer versions of their studio counterparts (either VdG or Hammill solo albums). Medley of "Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers" and "Urban/Killer" does not work well, but "Pioneers Over C" instead is excellent even if prolonged to 17 minutes. Roughly half of the album ("Ship of Fools", "Mirror Images", "Sci-Finance", "Door", "Urban" and "Nadir's Big Chance") consists of tracks that are premiered on a VdGG album, so for this reason only every VdGG collector should own it. And since these are performed in a "most extreme" way, "Vital" is also an album that every punk rocker should have in his/her prog collection!

Report this review (#1774318)
Posted Wednesday, August 23, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Review Nş 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*)

Report this review (#1867358)
Posted Wednesday, January 17, 2018 | Review Permalink

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