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Van Der Graaf Generator - Live at the Paradiso CD (album) cover

LIVE AT THE PARADISO

Van Der Graaf Generator

Eclectic Prog


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3 stars With the official release of their new studio album A Grounding Of Numbers just some hours away, I dug out this album from my purchased but not listened to mountain of albums on my desk.

I have always and will always rate Van Der Graaf Generator among the five best prog bands this planet has ever seen and heard. Their discography is mostly very impressive (crossed fingers for the new album) and some of their 1970s albums absolute masterpieces. So it was with some trepidations I put these two CDs on my CD player. Yes, one at a time.

What hits me most is the no show of David Jackson and his saxophone. There is no denying that VDGG is a lot more Peter Hammill and a lot less VDGG without David Jackson. Hugh Branton and Peter Hammill is trying to fill the gap with vocals, organs, electric guitar and piano. But the gap is still there. Hence; this live album has a lot more stripped down soundscape than the other VDGG live albums. This becomes very evident on tracks like Every Bloody Emperor which I feel is stripped of most of it's dynamics on this version. Which in effects kills this song dead.

The first disc includes Lemmings and some newer material. Disc 2 includes some golden oldies. This is where the new VDGG, a trio (which also includes Guy Evans on drums), puts their stramp on these great songs. Not to my pleasure, I have to admit. Those songs are giants among mice in my view. Not so much on this live album though. But when that is said, the band does their best with this line up. VDGG is still a great band. This live album is not though, but VDGG never ever becomes irrelevant or boring. It is just that I expected better. This album is not the album newbies should start with though and I still prefer the previous live albums instead of this one. Sorry !

........... now, I have to creep back into my sleeping bag outside that record shop where I am queing up for the new VDGG studio album.

3.5 stars

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Send comments to toroddfuglesteg (BETA) | Report this review (#414136)
Posted Thursday, March 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This recording of a performance from pre-album touring for Trisector doesn't just show that the band would weather the loss of Jackson; it shows that, at this point, they were a vastly superior band without him. Lest someone accuse me of blasphemy, I'll emphasize the at this point in that sentence; it's impossible to imagine the 70s version of the band thriving and making a strong mark without Jackson's noisy woodwinds, especially given the relative lack of guitar on those albums. When the classic quartet reunited for Present and accompanying live performances (like the one on Real Time), though, they essentially became a touring museum piece, which wouldn't have been so problematic if Hammill's vocals didn't sound so out-of-place worn and old. When Jackson departed and the other three decided to carry on, this didn't just require them to find a new approach to take on any new studio material they might do; this required them to reinvent their performances of their classic material in a way that would still preserve their essence without exposing the potentially gaping void in the sound. This process of reinvention gives a spark and a life to these performances that I didn't expect coming in, and it helps make for a really enjoyable live album.

Instrumentally, the main trick of the band is for Hammill's guitar to take a more central role than before, with his parts sometimes mimicking Jackson's old woodwind parts, and sometimes providing a level of noisy chaos that matches the general chaos Jackson's parts had provided. In terms of vocals, Hammill doesn't actually sound any better in tone and approach here than he does on Real Time, but the key here is to fill the setlist with material that doesn't require the kind of delicacy that he couldn't really provide in upper registers anymore. The only quiet ballads of the set are "Lifetime" (from Trisector) and "Every Bloody Emperor," and they're low-key enough (except for some angry moments near the end of the latter) and in a low enough register that there aren't any problems to deal with. The rest of the album consists of the kind of noisy material that is only helped by Peter's yelps and growls and half-singing. Plus, forcing Peter into a lower register has a major positive effect on one track: "Gog," from Peter's In Camera album, always seemed a little awkwardly pompous to me with Peter singing in the angelic higher range of his youth, but in a lower voice, the opening line of, "Some men have me Satan, others have me God..." suddenly becomes menacing as hell, and his voice generally gives a heft that wasn't present in the original.

The album has a lot of good material, but the major highlights come from World Record. Both "Place to Survive" (10 minutes to 7 minutes) and "Meurglys III" (20+ minutes to 16) are slightly abbreviated from before, but the shortening isn't really noticable, and they both exemplify all of the best aspects of the "power trio" VDGG. Trust me, you won't miss the saxes; the guitars give a dirty and sloppy edge that had always been slightly present in the studio versions but now become one of the best parts of the songs.

Look, this isn't one of the very best live albums I've ever heard (whatever weaknesses were in the studio versions of these tracks don't suddenly disappear completely), but it's definitely one of the most shockingly revelatory live albums I've ever heard. One thing I always hope for from a live album is for a few sonic surprises (which this album definitely has) and a few renditions of tracks that will make a case for being my favorite rendition of that track (aside from these being my preferred versions of the two World Record tracks, this also has my favorite "Lemmings" and my favorite "Scorched Earth"). If you're a fan of the band and you're not a diehard Jackson fan who refuses to acknowledge anything from after he left, you absolutely must get this album. More than anything else from this era, it cements late-period VDGG as having one of the very best late-period stages of any significant prog rock band.

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Send comments to tarkus1980 (BETA) | Report this review (#773481)
Posted Monday, June 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
3 stars 'Live at the Paradiso' is such a treasure with the VDGG band returning to the big stage and celebrating the return of the classic lineup with a CD and DVD. The DVD is the preferred choice here but this is still great to listen to without the visuals. It begins with the mesmirising 'Lemmings', sounding a bit strained but still a classic in all respects. Hammill seems to have the obligatory microphone issues being that this is the first song, as there are audio dropouts, though this is fixed for the rest of the concert. The guitar is rather odd, almost sounding out of tune but it is great to hear that organ of Hugh Banton, and the drumming of Guy Evans is powerful. The real star is Peter Hammill on vocals, guitar, and pianos; he is the piece of the VDGG puzzle that really must be present or it all falls apart. The absence of sax legend David Jackson is infuriating as he is one of the main drawcards and he is missed on several songs where the organ attempts to replace him to no avail.

Having said all that there is still enough here and so well played to make this a worthy purchase. Songs such as '(In The) Black Room', 'Every Bloody Emperor' and 'Gog' are always going to be powerhouse performances, even if they are not as good as the studio versions. The unusual choice of 'World record' epic 'Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild' is very welcome as it is rarely heard live and unedited. The nest is yet to come at the end of the concert with the incredible 'The Sleepwalkers', 'Man-Erg' and 'Scorched Earth', all quintessential VDGG tracks in their own right. This is not as good a live album as 'Vital' or 'Real Life' but it is certainly a wonderful thing to hear them play these tracks all these years on and they still sound as creatively vital and innovatively fresh even in their golden years. The DVD is far superior and identical as far as audio so that is the better choice.

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Send comments to AtomicCrimsonRush (BETA) | Report this review (#804064)
Posted Monday, August 13, 2012 | Review Permalink

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