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Gentle Giant - Playing The Fool - The Official Live CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant

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5 stars For me, the BEST live album ever. The amplitude of the plan and the way these guys play and interchange their instruments & voices make this work not a live album, but a true "Way of Life". True XXth century chamber music.
Report this review (#6196)
Posted Sunday, February 15, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars As a raving mad Gentle Giant fan in my teens what do I think of this album now. Well at it's best , it's combination of energy and their totally 'unique' (and I truly mean that) playing style makes it an absolute winner for me. However the downside I find, is that this album's artistic value is spoiled by their need to showcase their talents, which I feel, has added an almost circus quality to their performance. Gasp! As they all play recorders together ..while juggling ! Thrill ! As now they all play percussion together ! Marvel ! As their drummer plays a drum solo while hurtling down into a vat of custard ! And all these speciality performances come at some point during their songs. I mean, I know Giant always went off at tangents in their music but I wish they would have stayed with the songs and done their speciality acts as separate events. What also irritates me personally is the use of the medley format. I must confess to never liking this in any form and Giant do this for about half the album. It's kind of Jive Bunny Giant. I say all this because if Giant had played it more straight and ditched the urge to show off, this album in it's entirety would have been the most original and unsurpassable album I'd ever heard. Because what you get extra with Giant live is the replacement of their meticulous album production with, as I said before, a fantastic excitement and energy. Listen to 'Free Hand', 'Just the Same' or the 'Advent of Panurge' and listen to these guys rock, whilst at the same time playing those angular criss crossing patterns. Oh and in case you think I'm being bit disrespectful as s Giant fan, if I was in the audience watching them perform this stuff I too would be 'Oohing and Aahing' ! Because those show off moments are truly breath taking. Clive 5/5/04 [email protected]
Report this review (#6200)
Posted Wednesday, May 5, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the definite live album. This is what a live album should do -- capture the essence of the band, convey the excitement of the event, and sound like a concert. This one does it all with perfection. If anyone wonders just how much musicians can accomplish live on stage, "Playing The Fool" answers all questions. In concert, each of these guys played multiple instruments and sang. Sometimes playing 5 percussion instruments, or 5 stringed instruments, or singing a 5-part acappella, they played individually and as an ensemble in a wild frenzy of syncopated, complicated and technically brilliant music that defined progressive rock. And their concerts were FUN. This album captures it all. The finest musicians ever recorded--live!

Report this review (#6207)
Posted Sunday, June 27, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars In my opinion, the best live album ever released from a prog rock band. It's almost impossible to find better musicians, greater feeling, musicianship and integration in a rock group. The complexity of their sound, the beauty and diversity of their compositions, the passion they showed playing live, makes this band far away from the others. Perfect! Without doubt the best prog band ever. Please, forgive my sincerity, I don't want to offend anyone.
Report this review (#6208)
Posted Wednesday, October 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Un-freaking-believable! Listening to GG's studio work, one comes away with the same impression one had of Yes before YESSONGS: great in the studio, lousy in stage. This album shows the band ten times BETTER on stage! Powerhouse performance, and some great twists of humor. They obviously didn't take their "pretentious" label very seriously, but BOY did they ever take their playing seriously! Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull talks about touring with them, how they would play what Ian thought was a perfect set, only to hear them ripping each other to shreds backstage after the show! The ONE band I wish I saw when they were touring. "Excerpts from Octapus" is one of the best live prog pieces ever.
Report this review (#6209)
Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Live albums by great "live-bands" are always a welcome to my ears, this release is no exception. "Playing The Fool" shows Gentle Giant's unique live performances in a very good and sorted perspective with several instrumental "bonuses" added to many of the songs too. Gentle Giant always were very engaged live too, something that makes this album very uplifting and very rarely dull. I didn't quite get the point with the addition of "Breakdown in Brussels" though, but it's still a humoristic break from the album's other tracks, though it remains filler in my ears. On to the other stuff here; the music is played more or less flawlessly by the band. People might wonder how they manage to play this highly complex music live so good. Well, It's Gentle Giant we're talking about here, one of the most technically competent prog bands from the 70's, 'nuff said!

Despite it's few flaws, this is a must if you are a fan of this band. Great performances and very good tracklist. Sound quality is excellent, unlike the "Official Bootlegs" that was released years later that featured rather crappy sound quality. Gentle Giant fans, if you don't own this already, get it! 4.5/5

Report this review (#6210)
Posted Tuesday, November 30, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Gentle Giant was undoubtedly the 70s prog band to end all 70s prog bands. Strangely enough they had a degree of success in the U.S., but right up until their demise, remained obscure as all hell in their native U.K. For those of you who haven't heard Gentle Giant, their music is an ingenious fusion of medieval/early renaissance; English folk, and their own original brand of angular rock music --a kind of cubist-jigsaw-puzzle- brainiac-funkster-in-medieval-jester-cloths. Sorry, that's the best description I can come up with at the moment.

'Playing the fool' is a wonderful example of just how good these guys were live. I mean, what can one say about a band whose every member sings , whose keyboard player also plays a mean vibraphone and cello; whose bass player is a first rate guitarist; violinist and recorder player; and whose lead vocalist plays sax; recorder and bass? I ask you!!! Of the many highlights on this album, the astonishing 'On reflection' must be mentioned. In a different arrangement from the 'Free Hand' studio version, the song opens with violin, cello, vibraphone and recorder which leads into. . .wait for it. . .a four-part (or is it five-part?)fugue, sung a cappella. Second time 'round, a vibraphone and violin join-in the fun. The other stand-out track is the 'octopus' suite, which consist of 'The boys in the band' 'knots' 'The advent of Panurge' and a nice arrangement of 'Raconteur troubadour' (for two acoustic guitars), all segued to form one continuous track. They even throw in a two-guitar arrangement of 'Acquiring the taste' from the album of the same name. excellent stuff. Besides all of the tricky rhythms and fancy counterpoint, there's another feature of Gentle Giant's music that must be mentioned, and that is, it rocks! Beneath all the complexity there's a solid grooving rhythm section --special mention must be given to drummer, John Wethers, who holds the whole thing together with his infectuous and, at times, almost Bonhamesque, grooves. If you're new to Gentle Giant, then, 'Playing the Fool' is a very good introduction indeed, as it includes tracks from all their previous albums up until that point in time. All in all, an essential masterpice of 70s prog-rockery, full of music that ultimately transcends genre and musical trends, and leaves one muttering the immortal words of Frank Zappa:- "YOU CAN'T DO THAT ON STAGE ANYMORE!" I can't think of many that could. Five festive big ones ***** from your friend and fellow lover of "The Progressive", The Mentalist. CREED! . . .And may The Progressive of the history be only not as sin but creed to you all and yours!
Report this review (#6211)
Posted Monday, December 27, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is the Gentle Giant's live album. The chosen tracks are excellent. The musicians all play very well. On "On reflections", you can slightly feel the stress & pressure of the musicians during the complex vocals part. Weather's excellent and childish vibes notes are charming. The sound is very good and punchy, and the live ambience is palpable. The crowd favorably responds, often while the song is playing. The delightful omnipresent clavinet is quite distinguishable. The 15 minutes of excerpts from "Octopus" must be entirely & uninterruptedly listened to appreciate the brilliant passages between the tracks: ABSOLUTELY IMPRESSIVE! Weathers's drums & percussions combination inside his solo on the "So sincere" track is AMAZING. This album is excellent and memorable from A to Z!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Report this review (#6214)
Posted Sunday, April 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars An Essential Live Prog Rock Album of all time ...

There are two reasons why I need to review this legendary live album. First, I've just recently watched the band live performance through a video DVD titled Giant On the Box (2004) that features the band's performance and activities during the span of 1974 - 75. It's a wonderful live video especially for me having been listening to the band's music in the last thirty years something. Second, I am in a discussion through email with the reader of this site who lives in Pittsburgh USA. We are close, age-wise as well as taste-wise. He told me that he just got the double LP version of Playing The Fool which he lost it somewhere. According to him this is an excellent live album. Well, I fully agree with him.

This live set was recorded from the band's European Tour in September - October 1976; two years after their performance in Brussels TV recorded for the Giant On The Box DVD with the same line-up. By the time I listened to this album through a cassette I could not imagine how the band played their complex repertoires on stage especially with variety of instruments - over 30 plus types of instruments. Having seen the video, I can now imagine how the band members play their multi instruments. The album starts off with rapid-fire fingers punch of Kerry Minnear with his electric piano / keyboard through "Just The Same" from Free Hand album. It's an energetic opening track with a fully accentuated vocals and choirs. Derek shouts: "See me, what I am, what I was, what I'll be, Hear me, understand that I'm not what you see.". What a well positioned song as it opens the show with appropriate lyrics. The keyboard interlude and guitar riffs are truly magnificent! This opening track sparks the light for the rest of their performance.

The performance continues seamlessly to a dynamic track with great voices "Proclamation" from The Power and The Glory album. It has a slightly different arrangement from the original studio version especially on the piano intro combined with excellent guitar fills. Very nice. I can not let my mouth shut when Derek starts singing : "You may not have [applaud from the crowd!] all you want or you need, all that you have has been due to my hand, it can change, it can stay the same, who can say, who can make their claim. Hail hail hail ." Unfortunately there is one lyrical verse that is deleted with this live version, i.e the part that starts with "The situation we are in at this time .". But it's OK, it still a great song performed live.

It's so lively performance, I would say. With a long woodwinds and violin intro, "On Reflection" was performed flawlessly with its famous and beautiful choirs "In my way did I use you, do you think I really abused you On reflection now it doesn't matter:..." that has been the main characteristic of Gentle Giant. There is also an excellent acoustic guitar duo, I guess between Ray Shulman and Gary Green (now I can tell), during "Excerpts From Octopus" which received applaud from the crowd. The choral section combined with vibraphone is also very nice. Gary Green is a great guitar player. The exploration with other instruments including woodwinds and percussion is also performed beautifully.

"Funny Ways" which actually I did not favor initially through the studio version, has now become my favorite (after 30 years? Yes! It's due to the footage of the Giant on the Box DVD!). "Experience" starts off with a very inventive keyboard work by Minnear followed with fully accentuated voice of Derek combined with dynamic drumming by Weathers. "So Sincere" which was initially very hard for me to digest is now another good song as well as I now enjoy the violin and cello work here. "Free Hand" with its bluesy based rhythm is also performed energetically through excellent harmony between music and vocals, performed in energetic fashion. The live album concludes with an excellent medley "Peel The Paint / I Lost My Head" which is performed brilliantly.

In summary, having been more than 28 years now I still find listening to this excellent live album is very rewarding. Personally I could not give any rating less than 5 stars as this album is truly masterpiece of live prog rock album of all time. For those of you are familiar with the music of Gentle Giant from 1970-1976 would also find this album is an excellent addition to prog collection and I'm sure that at least you would give an at least 4 stars rating. I'm ready being blamed as too naďve - but it's true I'm telling you that this band is truly FANTASTIC! Highly recommended. Keep on proggin' ..!

Progressively yours,

GW - Review #323

What will I feel maybe tomorrow, but time not real, hours I can borrow, so until for now, as long as how, I can't remember what I said. I lost my head." - taken from "I Lost My Head" by Gentle Giant "Interview" album.

Report this review (#37015)
Posted Sunday, June 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I love this record for several reasons, but mainly because I saw the 'Plaing The Fool' Tour the 23.September 1976 in Düsseldorf. Up to today this remains the best concert I ever saw. The band seemed to liked it too, the whole first side of the double vinyl is from this concert,(BTW there are 3 other tracks from this concert on 'Under Construction' : Intro 76, Interview and Timing, which includes Ray's famous Quadra Violin Solo and there are two other tracks from the same concert on the 'glass house' reedition Runaway/Experience.) Gentle Giant was such a great live band. They were playing so tight and united and they transmitted their energy and joy of playing to the public.So this is a very good live record, and it gives a good overview of the entire GG catalogue from 'Funny Ways' (1970) to the 'Interview' (1976) tracks.Unfortunately on the record you can feel only slighly how great they were on stage.Get the DVD and you get at least visually a better idea of their unity and their energy. It is always difficult to compare Vinyl and CD because it depends so much on your equipment, but In comparaison to my vinyl the 'One Way' CD edition is a little pale.
Report this review (#37044)
Posted Monday, June 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Gentle Giant are easily one of the best live prog bands to ever have graced the stage. They tackle their endlessly complex material with ease and they replicate the album sound so well. The extended solo sections and the songs that segue into each other are also very good, never really getting boring at all. My only real complaint is that the sound quality isn't the best, but regardless, this is an incredible accomplishment for the group.

The set that is displayed on this album is varied and features some of their best material. My favorite tracks are Excerpts from Octopus, which features sections from each song on the album, a truly tough feat on paper, but performed incredibly well. Gary Green plays a great acoustic guitar during one of the sections. The Runaway/Experience is also a very good combination track, they go seamlessly together and are fluid in transitions, and it also features great vocals from Shulman, and an awesome drum performance from Weathers. And my favorite GG song, Freehand is played incredibly well, with an awesome wah solo from Green. Kerry Minear is the glue of the album, holding all of the musicians together throughout the intricate material. His performances are a highlight of the album because they are note for note perfect. Ray Shulman also gives great bass performances throughout, really going outside the box in his bass playing.

Overall, this is a great album that no Gentle Giant fan should miss. The material is awesome, the performances are awesome, the entire record is awesome. 4.5/5.

Report this review (#38812)
Posted Friday, July 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of my favorite live albums of all time, recorded at about the same time I saw them perform at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas (one of my favorite concerts of all time). I'm writing this review the week before the release of the35th Anniversary reissue, so I'm reviewing the original CD issue on One Way Records. I may buy the new version since it contains a bonus track, but the sound quality is wonderful on the One Way version. If I have a complaint, it's that the cover artwork is somewhat blurry, almost like a bootleg's would be. As far as the quality of the compositions and performance, it's flawless. Gentle Giant is one of the few bands that make me want to own every live album that's available (assuming the sound quality is decent), even if the set list is the same. Unfortunately, there are quite a few GG live releases that sound terrible, so buyer beware.
Report this review (#43396)
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
erik neuteboom
5 stars It took a while before I started to appreciate the 'conservatorium progrock' from Gentle Giant but eventually I bought this double album. What a discovery!Gentle Giant blew me away with their very distinctive progressive rock sound, based upon stunning interplay, a great variety in the instrumentation, the vocal harmonies and the alternating and captivating compositions. It's not the most easy progrock for the average proghead but if you are up to varied and more complex progrock with great muscial ideas (from a duo acoustic guitar piece and swinging work on the clavinet to a trumpet solo, inventive and dynamic drumming and fiery electric guitar runs) this double album will delight you, THIS IS ESSENTIAL PROGROCK!
Report this review (#43401)
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The sound quality of this album is great and there's nothing more to be desired as far as the sound quality and mixing etc. Playing the fool is the best live album I own and some of the songs are even better than they are on their studios (Funny Ways especially) It's also a great opportunity to hear Gentle Giant jamming which is comparable to the quality of the mighty Zepp's jams, especially since GG doesn't do much jamming on their studios so it's great to hear their jam chops. The guitar solo with the clavicord jamming along beside in 'So Sincere' is particularly great and it's followed by a great percussion jam which was performed by all members followed by a xylophone, vibes and percussion jam that is absolutely fantastic. If you played this album for anyone including prog fans it would be hard to convince them that it's a live performance because the performance is spot on. All virtuosos in their own right. Usually I tend to not rate live albums as essential strictly using the guidelines because they aren't essential but usually are more essential for fans while not being as essential as the studios to the average prog listener. Playing the Fool fully deserves five stars though because it IS a masterpiece and is more essential than some of their albums IMO. The performance is essential because it is mandatory that every prog listener hear this example of a perfect live performance. If anyone needs an introduction to GG, this would be the album I would reccomend because it's guaranteed to spark an interest in the band and is a great cross-section of their material.
Report this review (#44604)
Posted Sunday, August 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I rarely give 5 star reviews, but I'd definitely consider this to be a masterpiece. In fact, THIS BELONGS IN THE TOP 5 OF PROGRESSIVE-ROCK LIVE ALBUMS.

Gentle Giant was great in the studio, but the varied nature of recording, and even more varied nature of this band, resulted in a variety of different recording approaches and mixes throughout their album history. What's great here is to hear the songs come together on an equal foundation. You get to hear the cohesive side of the band not readily heard on most albums.

Another great aspect of this album is that the band changes the songs a bit for the stage. Instead of doing note-for-note duplications of the album, they rearrange the songs, making them more interesting.

The newly remastered 35-Year Anniversary series is the ideal version to get. Besides improved sound quality, there is a bonus VIDEO computer file included on Disk 1. Yes, you get to SEE the band play "Proclamation", apparently from a TV show. I've listened to the band for 20 years, and just the other day got to SEE them for the first time. Very cool!

Report this review (#46461)
Posted Monday, September 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
Tony Fisher
5 stars This showcases one of the most amazing bands ever live; their playing ability is second to none. They even make Dream Theater seem like mere mortals, so technical are they on their huge variety of instruments. And the music is good too. It is complex, sometimes mediaeval inspired, sometimes jazz based, always progressive and full of emotion. They are all fine singers and their multipart harmonies and counterpoints are exceptional; only Queen can rival them. The music is intense and takes no prisoners; a double album (and I'm reviewing the vinyl version) is far too much to take in in one go, but almost everything is good. The first two tracks and the last three are exceptional. They can stick tightly together through complex rhythms and time changes, separate members even playing in different time signatures at times and yet they hold it all together. Like a good wine, this album is something to be savoured a little at a time. The vinyl version is 4.5* but with the bonus tracks on the CD it is a confident 5* album and an essential masterpiece.
Report this review (#46630)
Posted Wednesday, September 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
Marc Baum
5 stars This really is the best prog rock live recording of all time, together with Yes's "Yessongs". "Playing The Fool" shows Gentle Giant on their peak with all career- moments from their classic period from 1970-1976. The production is excellent, transparent and shows the live energy of the band in a perfect way.

Stay away from other Gentle Giant live records, because the most got a too short length or an awful sound quality. This is the Gentle Giant live album to go for and is also a recommended start point to discover the music of this unique prog institution from the 70's. My favourite classic prog rock live album ever beside Yessongs!

Essential: a masterpiece of progressive music

Report this review (#46908)
Posted Friday, September 16, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Live album announced in 1977 "Playing The Fool". Work collected by Europe tour of autumn of 1976. It overflows in the interest only of live. Live album with wonderful indispensable fan. It is a miraculous live album. It is unrelated whether you are a fan of GENTLE GIANT. It is an album that should be absolutely had.
Report this review (#47275)
Posted Monday, September 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars As a relative newcomer to progressive, I picked up Playing the Fool (the double CD anniversary edition) after listening to and loving Three Friends and The Power and the Glory. As far as live albums go, this is very, very impressive. The instrumentals are extremely varied and consistently mind blowing.

There isn't much that hasn't been said about this album in all the previous reviews, so I'll think I'll just voice a couple of my complaints about it. These are just common problems that come up with all live albums (and at a much, much, lower rate on this album.) The vocals on two or three tracks (most glaringly, near the beginning of the opening track, "Just the Same") seem to be somewhat inconsistent on the high notes that can be hit. "So Sincere," was also a great disappointment in terms of vocals, but caught itself quickly with an amazing jam. And there's a little bit of brief feedback on one or two tracks. But that's literally all I can find wrong with it. In terms of quality, I liken this album to a supermodel with a single, tiny zit on her back. Who cares?

Another point I have to mention is that the 35th Anniversary edition includes a .mov file of a live show of "Proclamation." It suffers with the same vocal issues in a few difficult places. But the most remarkable thing about it is the drumming of John Weathers. No, not the actual sound coming out, but his face. He contorts his face in the most absolutely hillarious way when he's drumming. Don't get me wrong, he's a great drummer, and it's great that he's putting so much passion into it, but JESUS. That's worth a chuckle.

Report this review (#52592)
Posted Friday, October 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Giant's 1976 tour marked the end of an era, captured here on two elpees that draw out the jewels from their earlier masterpieces. Of course it's brilliant, faithful to the originals but free in execution, the celebration of a genius that spills over. However, an appreciation of this album is predicated on an understanding that the originals were flawless creatures. Only then do you really enjoy the license given to songs like "On Reflection." Not that Gentle Giant departs from the original blueprints, they simply add some ornamentation to suit the live milieu (drum solos, complex vocal harmonies, a chorus of recorders) and keep listeners on their toes a little. I remember when I first heard Playing The Fool, amazed that the band could capture so much of the original detail in a live setting. Kerry's keyboards sound the same, Gary's guitar has all of the old grit, Derek's voice stays the original course point for point. Song selection is a non-issue for me, since it's a delight to hear the band conjure any of the old wonders so faithfully. A medley of Octopus is a highlight, the combination of "Peel The Paint" (from Three Friends) and "I Lost My Head" (the lone track from Interview) a good way to cram as much great music as possible into two pieces of plastic. Not by accident, the first three sides are introduced by sounds from the original elpees: Free Hand's gears grinding (side one), a spinning coin (side two, from Interview I think), breaking glass from In A Glass House (side three). In part because of this, Playing The Fool feels like Gentle Giant's studio albums come to life. It doesn't add much new music to the canon (only a short violin/guitar rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown"), but serves rather to underscore how talented an outfit they were.
Report this review (#60798)
Posted Monday, December 19, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars At one time the only live music available from this innovative band aside from shoddy bootlegs. At least one track from every studio album is presented here with the exception of 1971`s Acquiring the Taste which is my only qualm with this otherwise excellent live album recorded during the 1976 Interview tour.

As such, it is a great introduction to the band for the new listener. Gentle Giant can be heard rocking it out or demonstrating thier medieval capella like vocal stylings on tracks such as On Reflection. Before delving into the truckloads of live material which has become available recently, which varies in sound and performance quality ( every band had their off nights, Gentle Giant were no exception!) Playing the Fool is right up there in your face with solid live interpretations. A great sampling from the Octopus album ( arguably their finest work) is presented in medley form and was a regular part of their live set. Known for reworking their music in the live environment this album demonstrates even further, the unusual music prowess possessed by the individual members of Gentle Giant.

Gentle Giant`s first "official" live album is the perfect starter kit since the high energy performance of the music make the esoteric complexities of Gentle Giant a bit more accessable than the studio work. Those already familiar with the band`s studio work will hear Gentle Giant very alive and at the top of their game. There are additions on the more recent Terrapin Trucking CD release from the same era but are of much more of interest to the hard core Gentle Giant fan so I would stick with the original package which was released both as a single CD or two CD package along with their next studio effort Giant For a Day. If you are still living in the dark ages of vinyl ( like this reviewer is ) there is cool artwork depicting a star constellation map of their tour dates on the gatefold record jacket.

Quitessential Live Gentle Giant.

Report this review (#79408)
Posted Friday, May 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is, along with "Roxy & Elsewhere" by Frank Zappa and "Bursting Out" by Jethro Tull one of the best live-doubles in my vinyl collection. Maybe it was meant to be a present to the fan community before GG went down to mainstream business. It's much more than "the best of" Gentle Giant because their live performances were always different from the studio recordings. For example, it's surprising and interesting to hear the medleys. After all there are only a few limitiations preventing this from being the perfect live album. The drum solo is not as good as Barrimore Barlows on "Bursting Out". Though "Playing the Fool" was released shortly after "Interview" there's only one track from that album ("I lost my head"). Maybe they could have make it a 2-CD so there would have been space for "Interview" and "Timing" from the same tour. This two songs have been released later on "Under Construction".
Report this review (#100579)
Posted Monday, November 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I hate to go along with the crowd, but this is one of the greatest live documents of a prog band ever. Reason being, the men can damn play their instruments! AND, they don't play exact copies of the songs, they mix it up. Proof..listen to 'Funny Ways' from their first album, then play the live version...Minnear's xylophone solo is just amazing and Weathers is a monster on the drum kit. In fact, I tend to zero in on Weather's drumming, he's SO underated! Honestly, there's only so many other bands that can match their sheer virtruosity, (maybe Zappa...). On top of the playing, one forgets how well they can sing. I mean Ray can wail if he wants to. My only complaint is since this was the INTERVIEW tour, I wish there were more songs from that album. As you can possible garner, I'm in awe of this album and it doesn't ever get stale after repeated plays. They play a great mix of songs up and down the catalog, (in fact, most of their live albums have virtually the same songs). But this is the one to get. Mark it down as a MUST have if you are at all interested in Gentle Giant, but wait until you have all the albums previous. It's like icing on the best cake you'll ever taste. A true masterpiece of prog music.
Report this review (#101050)
Posted Wednesday, November 29, 2006 | Review Permalink

GENTLE GIANT have absolutely no problems to play their complex, multi-instrumental pieces on stage.

About the first disc: Already the rocky "Just The Same" (FREE HAND) or the complex "Proclamation" (THE POWER AND THE GLORY) which is played with such an effortlessness that you may not believe it will cause an auditory canal-orgasm. But if you hear how easy the band around the SHULMAN BROTHERS plays and sings the incredibly complex and squiggled "On Reflection (FREE HAND) (rembember: all five members are singing here and they change their instuments during the song) you will feel impelled to construct a GENTLE GIANT-shrine. You think that was the peak level of the concert? Far wrong! The band even enhances itself! With their nearly 16 minutes long medley "Excerpts from Octopus" (I think I do not need to explain which songs from which album are featured here) GENTLE GIANT show their mastery on their instruments, again - so as in the song "On Reflection" - they show how easy singing for several voices is for them. You will find a guitar-duett, a medieval sounding flute-part, anecdotes from other GENTLE GIANT-albums (so as a part of the song "Acquiring The Taste" from the same-titled album in the guitar-duett) and lots of solos which connect the individual parts here. After all those musical excesses GENTLE GIANT plays the more calm "Funny Ways" (GENTLE GIANT) which contains an incredible vibraphone-solo which is played by keyboarder KERRY MINNEAR. The sad, beautiful ballad will quiet your mind a bit (in the figurative sense of course).

Indeed the second disc rocks mercilessly right away (it may even rock a bit more than the first one). After the interesting glass-breaking solo we allready know from the album IN A GLASS HOUSE the band plays the two very rocky and squiggled tunes "The Runaway" and the sometimes baroque-sounding "Experience" (a bridge connects both songs) which you will find on the already mentioned fith album of GENTLE GIANT. Hereafter the band challenges our ears with the song "So Sincere" (THE POWER AND THE GLORY) which is not easy to digest when you hear it for the first few times but wich contains an excellent drumbash played by all band members (vocalist DEREK SHULMAN used to call this "percussion-insanity"). Especially drummer JOHN WEATHERS abounds himself here and convinces with his works on the drums. The GLOCKENSPIEL part at the end tops the tune off. The next song, "Free Hand" (from the same-titled album) is again a rocky tune with an outstanding guitar-solo played by guitarist GARY GREEN. An excellent piece, if you ask me. The following title "Sweet Georgia Brown" which does not appear on any studio album sounds like a violin-based jazz-piece from the late 30s or early 40s. Now bassist and violinist RAY SHULMAN shows his best. The last song "Peel The Paint/I Lost My Head" connects two songs from GENTLE GIANT's third album THREE FRIENDS and from their eighth album IN'TERIVEW. Also maybe not easy to digest, but very interesting and rocky.

Allright, that's it. I really have nothing to critizise here. After listening to this album you can only be awestruck by the band's skills and the emotionality these guys used to play their songs live. PLAYING THE FOOL is one musical excess. I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend this album! Five stars!

Report this review (#105587)
Posted Thursday, January 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the best live albums of prog.

Have you ever wanted to hear amazing musicians perform wonderful compositions in an intense environment to near perfection? Well, GG's Playing the Fool might be a good investment then. If your a fan of any of the classic GG material you will probably like something you find on this disc, and it's also great for fans of instrumental prowess.

The performance is quite simply wonderful. All the tunes are excellent, some my all time favorite GG tracks. If you've heard it on the album, just wait till you hear the live version, it's awesome. Get this seminal live release!

Report this review (#117446)
Posted Friday, April 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is, quite simply, THE Gentle Giant album for me. Could be because it was my first one? Possibly, but this has a power and drive to it that none of their studio albums could match (having heard other live albums of theirs, I must say that this was true of their live shows in general).

I first got this when a friend loaned me his cassette copy back in the early 90's, saying that he thought it was okay, but nothing particularly special, and that it was "like Yes". Well, he must not have listened to it much. In fact, neither did I. I didn't know what to make of it at the time, being immersed in Pink Floyd, Rush, and ELP for the most part. After a couple play throughs I didn't listen to it again for half a year or so. But at some point I had a vague recollection of complex vocal rounds and even more complex melodic interplay and pulled it back out. After a couple more attentive listens I decided it was the best music I'd ever heard.

Time and a string of great bands has somewhat changed this viewpoint, of course, but GG is still one of my favorite bands of all time. And this album is a large part of the reason for that. From the absolutely stunning opening of Just The Same, through the mind boggling vocal antics of On Reflection and the intense complexity and power of the Octopus medley (with one of the finest acoustic guitar duets ever recorded), through the sublime yet still powerful Funny Ways, the first half is flawless GG all the way. For me, that was Side A of the tape (and presumably the first LP of the 2 LP release). Pure musical bliss I must say.

The second half of the album is more quirky and the material somewhat less of "essential" GG, but no less enjoyable. Especially Free Hand with it's far more effective (than the studio album) live arrangement featuring a blazing Gary Green guitar solo. The Runaway/Experience don't sound much different from the original album versions, but that in itself is impressive. So Sincere is the only song that has started to wear on me over the years, being a song that is seemingly strange for the sake of strangeness and difficult for the sake of difficulty, rather than a coherent musical statement. But it's still impressive to hear it pulled off live, even if I've grown more than a little tired of the mostly uninteresting "drum bash" at the end. Sweet Georgia Brown is a nice interlude that shows the band didn't really need electricity to perform good music. And the final medley of songs is sort of an anticlimax, not exactly being the best GG material to end a show with, but still good and excellently performed.

So in the end, because of my emotional attachment to this album, I must award the extra fifth star. It really is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of progressive music, even if it is a live album. Those who are not huge GG fans, a solid 4 is probably the best rating. If you have never heard the band and are looking for a great place to start, this is it without question.

Report this review (#117459)
Posted Friday, April 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Even though I've heard to "Playing The Fool" a number of times, I don't actually own the album, and here's why:

First of all, I'm not a big fan of live material (except in the traditional jazz field). But in this particular case, the primary thing is that the guys are SO accurate on stage that sounds pretty much like the studio ones that I already own, especially vocal wise (absolutely flawless). Is amazing, really!

If you're not that familiar with the Gentle Giant sound and wants to acquire a little something that represents their glorious days, just to know their work better. you're right on the money! Can't go wrong with this one!

Report this review (#123978)
Posted Wednesday, May 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars My first Gentle Giant album and still my favorite. I bought it when I was probably about 12 years old and nearly wore the grooves off. Sometimes when your introduction to a band is through their live material, their studio work seems a little flat in comparison. The same thing happened to me with Genesis, because Second Out was my first Genesis album.

In any case, this album provides a great sampling of Gentle Giant's work up til its release, and it crackles with live energy.

Report this review (#172911)
Posted Monday, June 2, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars I bought this as an double-LP in 1976 in London during a schooltrip, because the man in the store said this was magnificent symphonic rock. I didn't know the band or their music, but I wanted to buy a London souvenir. At home (Holland) I listened to it, and I couldn't believe my ears. Those guys did things with their voices and instruments I had never heard before. It was magic, and it still is. I've bought this LP on CD when the fenomenon called CD came on the market (so it was my first CD) and the LP was grey from the many times I listened to it, and nowadays I listen to it as an MP3 on my iPod. This music stands time magically. I bought all Gentle Giant CD's and I must say I like them a lot, but this live CD will remain their best. This one must be in everybody's music collection.
Report this review (#174987)
Posted Monday, June 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Somehow, I have always regarded Gentle Giant as the progressive rock's answer to a chamber orchestra, playing baroque music. And that is the best description I can find of this truly unique band. This also explains why I have always kept their music on an arm-length distance. Too weirdo, in my view. But my views has changed over the last year. Black is no longer black and I am on a journey to somewhere. Maybe to the land of the gentle giant ?

Gentle Giant uses more or less the same instruments as a chamber orchestra + electric guitars, bass and drums. The vocals too has a classical feel. This album is their only official live album and an excellent starting point for those who want to find out more about Gentle Giant. The music is very complex at times. Mostly due to Gentle Giant being different from the rest of the music scene. The music is very catchy at times. The melodies are very strong. The live version of Funny Ways on this album being one of the best progressive rock songs ever as far as I am concerned. I play it over and over again. What I like about this album and Gentle Giant is their special sound. It is organic and warm. It is unique. I can understand why this band has some fanatical fans. It is pretty much them against the world because the rest of us do not understand much of what this band is doing.

But I have been listening to this double CD for some months and I discover new layers all the time. Gentle Giant has never been a favorite of mine, but I guess it is about time for me to raise the white flag and give this band the recognition it deserve. This live album is absolute superb and essential. It is also one of the best progressive rock live albums of all time.

4.5 stars.

(This review is based on the 35th anniversary edition)

Report this review (#185750)
Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
5 stars One of the greatest live albums of all time. On Playing The Fool eclectic prog rock legend Gentle Giant proved they were far from a studio only band. If you ever wondered if they could play live as good as on their records, this is the album to end any doubts. They were not only consumated players and awesome songwriters: they were a great live act! Expecting them to be a cold and precise band on stage? They were HOT and precise! See their DVDs if you have any qualm left about this issue!

Those guys had a fine stage presence and could performe most of their incredible intricated songs and arrangements with energy, conviction and a smile on their faces (it seems so easy for them!). Of course they were not exactly as performatic as, say, Genesis (with Peter Gabriel) but still I found Derek Shulman to be a strong frontman. They did move and showed emotions while playing. Their chemistry is mind blowing, fueled by the years they were performing together. And there is no question about their virtuosity: they play more than 30 (!) instruments among themselves during the course of the show. And they play all very well!

The set list is very good, with songs from every stage of their career up to that point (their best years, by the way). I found the second vinyl side the most interesting: the Excerpts from Octopus were always of the best parts of their live shows, truly awesome (especially the recorders foursome in the middle). Funny Ways is a classic that turned better live than its already great studio version. On Reflection is another highlight, proving those guys could actually reproduce live their intricated vocal harmonies and counterpointing.

As for sound production, I found my russian CD remastered version to be very well done (and actually better than the vinyl I once had). You can hear everything very clearly.

To me this is Gentle Giant´s crowning achievement. It showed the band at their very peak: capable of doing live things that seemed impossible to do without studio trickery.

A masterpiece of progressive music. To put it simply: essential.

Report this review (#187120)
Posted Monday, October 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This really is an example of how great a live album can be. Recorded during their "Interview" tour from 1976 the band plays not only a song from that album (the final track) but they play at least one song from the previous 7 albums as well. Before you say What about "Acquiring the Taste" ? They include the title track from that album in the middle of the "Excerpts From Octopus". Go figure ? Anyway they rearranged it for the acoustic guitar if you didn't catch it right away. In fact a lot of these tracks were rearranged for these concerts, something GENTLE GIANT loved to do. What a talented band they were. And that's also what is so great about this recording, we can hear them play this complex music live. The sound here is perhaps louder and rawer then what we're used to from their studio work but that's pretty much what you'd expect. I like the picture in the liner notes of what I thought at first was constellations with lines running to all these different dots. What they are though is all the cities they visited on this tour all over the world. Cool to see they came to my province of Ontario and played not only Toronto as you'd expect but Ottawa and London as well.

So many highlights here, in fact there really isn't a bad track but i'd like to touch on my favourites. "Proclamation" from "The Power And the Glory" opens with piano as vocals come in. I like the instrumental break later followed by those vocal arrangements they're famous for. More of those vocals on "On Reflection" from the "Free Hand" album. Flute and cello early on this one. I should mention that "Free Hand" has the honour of being the album with the most music on this recording. There are five songs sampled on the "Excerts From Octopus" song. They really impress on this 15 1/2 minute track.

"Funny Ways" from the debut is my favourite song on here. Something melancolic about it. I like when it builds late and when it reaches it's peak the crowd roars it's approval. "The Runaway" from "In A Glass House" opens like the studio track with a sample of breaking glass. This is uptempo and so impressive. "Experience" is also from that album and is probably my second favourite song on here. It's so complex and intricate, I just love to really listen to it. The final medley of "Peel The Paint / I Lost My Head" end the recording in style. The former from "Three Friends" is just a killer track with powerful vocals.

A must for GENTLE GIANT fans out there.

Report this review (#208886)
Posted Thursday, March 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Remember what I said about Seconds Out being THE live album of 1977? I was WRONG!

Gentle Giant's first live album is probably also their most successful one. This is a peak, and they had nowhere to go but down, not that they were bad afterwards! Over the last few months Giant have become my favorite band, and I felt that having reviewed only one album by them, I'd give this one another spin, and type. This was recorded under Giant's classic line-up, Weathers, Minnear, Shulman, Shulman, Shulman, Shulman, Shul- no, wait... back up a bit. Weathers, Minnear, Shulman, Shulman, and Green, which, in my opinion, are the best combo. When these 5 were put together, they were unstoppable. They are the unstoppable object hit by the immovable force which was, the dreaded, EIGHTIESSSSSSS !

Opening, snare, then BAM, the notorious keyboard/guitar polyphonic intro Just the Same ! This is one of the live versions that I am dissappointed with, both technically and audio-ccajamagoogycally (audio-ly?). Some screwups here and there, but in the end, it's Just the Same as the original! (hah hah, hah hah.)

Kerry Minnear plays, at first, it's a bit odd, but then, the vocals start, and it's Proclamation time... my puns are getting worse. The Power and the Glory counts as one of Giant's top albums, alongside it's predecessor, In A Glass House, and it's follower, Free Hand, ah, the golden years. It was even ranked 78th on the US Billboard 200 back in '74! Blast, and before you know it, Proclamation becomes Valedictory, one Giant's most powerful tracks. Ever. On this planet.

IT'S BASHING TIME! While the original On Reflection counts as probably, my favorite song of all-time (tied with Throw Down the Sword by Wishbone Ash and Circumstances by Capability Brown), this new, rearranged, totally farted version, ruins it. The most beautiful part of the song has lost Kerry's vocals, got sped up, and lost the original, reflective, feel of the song. Gary's recorders go out of tune midsong, Ray and Kerry sing the wrong notes during the vocal part, and even the order of the song's parts has gone completely wack!

Gentle Giant's mini-epic! Yes, you read correctly, this is probably the closest Gentle Giant have ever been to a well rehearsed and recorded epic! At just over fifteen and a half minutes, this song/medley/excerptorium DELIVERS! I probably forgot to tell you, but the vinyl copy of this record brings out the best of this record! (unless you don't have a record player, in which case it's just a stupid round-vinyl-thingy.) The songs in this medley/excerptorium/song are, in the following order: The Boys in the Band, Raconteur Troubadour, Knots, and The Advent of Panurge, in the middle of which are: A guitar duel, a recorder duet: In the middle of which is: A Yankee Doodle rendition!

I haven't much to say about the rendition of Funny Ways on this live album. As a person who has heard both versions at least 10 times, I can say, nothing has improved, but nothing's worse either. It includes more solos, more improvs, and the whole kaboodle, but, it's Still the Same.... that's it with the puns for me. Oh, and there's a glockenspiel solo.

"This album is called, uh, In a Glass House." The glass we all know shatters, and the loop begins. Kerry plays the 4 notes on his keyboard, 3, 2, 1, and LSDLGVDFLGNFD! The Runaway starts. "He is the runaway, lie low the wanted man, mask his elusive face, soon he will getaway and his future, no more aimless." John Weathers is the tighest he can be on just about every song from In a Glass House ever played, live and studio. I keep telling my friends "Gentle Giant are tight, Gentle Giant are cool, GG is teh hundin, Jay Jay is tay mahn... mahn.", and such, but once I listen to a song and think to myself, "Damn, these boys are tight.", let's just say I feel sorry for my friends (laugh track). Bass bass bass, and cut into...

...Experience, as in, experience the wonders of this marvellous Gentle Giant piece... OK, now I'm REALLY done with the pun (Rhymes ain't puns!). Well, Kerry's raging Hammond, Gary's professional prolific wah guitar solos, Weathers' tight drumming, Ray's sharp bass sound, and, Derek's, ermm, stage dancing, are damn good!

So Sincere is one of Giant's, erm, "heavier" tracks. Not the "rockin' guitar solos, and Derek Shulman humping a wild goose on stage" kind of heavy, but more of the "This is hard to listen to, let's listen to Miley Cyrus" kind of heavy. Pumping dissonant violins and Kerry Minnear's stingy clavinet, along with, YES, ANOTHER Gary Green rockin' wah solo. *Derek Shulman humps wild goose* NOT NOW YOU STUPID FU-

It's time for Minnear's Free Hand to roll up and down the keyboard while eating curry! (Both the wrong keyboardist and ANOTHER pun? I've lost it, I know.) "Who would believe me now, that my hands are free, hands are free. I never thought it would, ever come to me, ever come to me." This is Gentle Giant at their superiority! The sheer power (and glory) of this song ARE the sound of Gentle Giant that was and was to be.

Now a lovely rendition of Peel the Paint and I Lost My He- wait, what's that? Oh god, it's Sweet Georgia Brown! Gary and Ray provide a sweet sweet cover version of Django Reinhardt's Sweet Georgia Brown! Showcasing of Ray's violin skills, no doubt.

It starts off with Peel the Paint, and obviously Derek takes the lead here, but an abrupt cut, and onto I Lost My Head. The recorder in the beginning of the song is just beautiful, takes me away everytime I hear it. Then, BAM, Kerry's clavinet plays the famous riff and the whole band enters for, the show of their lives. I couldn't pick a better encore...

Well, that's the (pretty) long and (not so) short of it! THIS, is the live album of 1977, with Seconds Out as a close second. 4/5 stars for awesomeness and Gentle Giant, and, ermm, uhh, awesome Gentle Giant!

Report this review (#277659)
Posted Monday, April 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars This was recorded on the 1976 tour for Interview. The group was still a great live act but their studio work was just starting to lose steam. The only track from that album is "I Lost My Head". I would have preferred the title track. The standard "Sweet Georgia Brown" is performed. The most famous version of this song is probably the one used as the theme song for the Harlem Globetrotters. Supposedly they played it because there was some kind of equipment failure at the time.

The "Excerpts From Octopus" part is great, even better than the studio version. This features some of the best moments from what I've always considered to be an inconsistent album. Within this part is featured the title track to Aqcuiring The Taste, done on acoustic guitars instead of Moog synthesizer. The audience applause sort of gives this part away. I should mention drummer John Weathers who does a great job on the material the group recorded before he joined.

GG were an amazing live act in the way the members would switch between different instruments. On this set keyboardist Kerry Minnear seems to not play much synth but instead uses a lot more clavinet than on the studio albums. "Just The Same" is better than the album version. "Proclamation" incorporates "Valedictory" into it. "Funny Ways" is longer and superior to the studio version. "So Sincere" is also longer and better than the original. Almost half of this song is just drums and percussion. "Peel The Paint" only features the last half of the song.

This is a great album and sounds decent for a live recording from this time. It's too bad they started losing the magic in the studio albums after this. I've heard some live GG from 1974 but I wonder what the group sounded like live when brother Phil was still a member. In some ways this could make a good introduction for a GG newbie. 4 stars.

Report this review (#403574)
Posted Saturday, February 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Gentle Giant - Playing the Fool - The Official Live (1977)

This prog live album is quite famous in the prog community, and for a good reason. By the time this album was released it was perfectly clear (after many many brilliant studio albums) that Gentle Giant was one of the best progressive rock bands in the fields. Their amazing musicianship, use of a huge amount of instruments, musical innovation, vocal experimentation and quantity of quality material is perhaps unmatched. It's a real treat to have a band that is really Progressive with the big P. Lately I've seen two live dvd's of Gentle Giant and I was amazed by how these extreme hard-to-play arrangements actually work on stage and how many instruments they played. Of course this is still the case on a live album on double vinyl of the same years. Yes - Gentle Giant proves to be perfectly capable of playing their rocket-science compositions on stage.

The live versions of most tracks are reminiscent of their original studio-tracks, but on Excerpts From Octopus the band shows it's also capable for re-arranging the most difficult compositions for - say - two acoustic guitars. The acoustic guitar skills of (otherwise) bass and violin-player Ray Shulman are really a pleasant surprise. Furthermore Kerry Minnear impresses on the extended metalophone solo on Funny Ways. It's also good to see some extended solo's here and there and some new compositions or intermezzo's that aren't present on the studio-albums. I must admit I did however miss some of the folky vocals during the gentle moments of (I think) Kerry Minnear, his pleasant voice could have been used a bit more in my opinion.

The sound of this live album is good, but don't expect a hard-rock production or sound. The album sounds as if only the sound coming from the stage was recorded and it seems that there was little post-production. The compositions/songs chosen for this live-set are all interesting, but I must admit I'm not that blown away by 'Free Hand' (a song that didn't impress me earlier) and by 'The Experience'. Now I feel tempted to say which songs I would liked to have seen on this live-set, but that information is irrelevant.

Conclusion. This is one of the stronger live albums of the progressive rock genre and it proves that Gentle Giant wasn't a studio phenomenon. Actually, it can help to appreciate their studio-offerings even more, by knowing they could easily reproduce these intricate atmospheres and multi-instrumental parts on stage. Still I'm not giving the five star rating, just because I still prefer the dedicated and mysterious sound of their studio recordings (mainly of their early period), live their music seems to be 'easier to get into'. Still a brilliant live record. Four and a halve stars. Recommend to those who already own some albums by Gentle Giant, others should start with albums like Acquiring the Taste, Octopus or perhaps Free Hand. This isn't the kind of music that most of us like instantly.

Report this review (#428679)
Posted Thursday, April 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars This album ranks high up there with the best of the seventies progressive rock live albums, on a par with "Yessongs" and "Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends...". It is the only official Gentle Giant live album released while the band was still together. And it captures them at their peak.

Recorded on the "Free Hand" tour, the band is able to draw from it's best material for this live set, although I'm sure we all have favorites that we wish were included. With selections from six of the seven albums released before the show (although my favorite, "Three Friends" is barely touched upon), the band shows it's versatility.

Unlike many some prog band, who would barely change their songs in a live show, Gentle Giant would add quite a bit, and rearrange many sections of their complex pieces (I'm sure some of this was to make it possible for the muti-instrumantalists to get through the songs), making this a treat to those of us who know and love these songs so well.

I see from the listing here that there is an expanded CD version of this album. I must find it!

Report this review (#449150)
Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars I love Gentle Giant, but this is an utterly pointless album. Everything is played exactly how it sounded on their LP's, but is missing all the effects, tweakery and trickery that was present on their studio albums. There are no original compositions present either. I really can't understand why live albums get such a high rating on the Archives.

I give this only 2 stars not because it's played badly, quite the opposite in fact. It's so perfect with so little deviation from the studio versions that it feels worthless.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather hear the originals any day. There are vocal, guitar and bass effects that are completely absent which leads imminently to a drab, flat sound that prevails throughout this recording. A real washout of an album - I strongly recommend their studio albums before listening to this. Gentle Giant were untouchable in complexity and uniqueness in the early to mid 70's which at points often bordered on showing off in a manner that few of their contemporaries could match.

Report this review (#588862)
Posted Thursday, December 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Easily one of the five most impressive live concerts I've ever heard. Just the way the boys switch from acoustic to electric, antiquated to modern, melodic to angular and dissonant, straight-time to quirky, odd time sigs, is astonishing in and of itself. The fact these complex and unusual compositions were all penned by the brothers Shulman, Green, and Minnear whilst they traversed their third decade on the planet is near miraculous. I feel so blessed and grateful that such a recording of the live concert performance of this music is available to us--preserving for all-time shining examples of humankind's creative potential. Play your recorders and krumhorns! Sing those ear-defying vocal harmonies! We are not worthy! We are not worthy!
Report this review (#659380)
Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Gentle Giant's live triumph is flawless musicianship.

Gentle Giant's live album "Playing The Fool" is a treasure of prog rock at its most exquisite, intricate and whimsical. The sound captured live is quintessential Gentle Giant and almost works as a type of best of the Giant. There is enough variation on offer to make it a worthwhile addition to any collection. The best bits of "Octopus" are here, and tons of medley's and montages of Gentle Giant's inimitable style. The music is full blown prog revved to the max with wonderful soloing on descant recorder on 'Funny Ways', and soaring strings on 'Runaway/ Experience'. This set list is as good as I have heard from Gentle Giant. The brilliant 'Free Hand' and 'Peel The Paint' are played to perfection. 'Free Hand' is perhaps the best I have heard it with wonderful complex time sigs and Minnear's mind bending keyboards.

The original vinyl was a huge multiple vinyl release but it all fits very neatly on one CD and although there are annoying breaks in the tracks, it is great to hear this in one sitting without having to turn over one vinyl side after another. The version I own came with the inferior but entertaining "Civilian" album. It is possible to buy this live album without the extra album but I certainly recommend the double release for value. The 20 page booklet is of high quality with tons of pictures and interesting information about both albums. There are some great quotes in the book liner notes such as "this British band is just the cup of tea for aficionados who demand virtuosity, progress and originality in their mix," and "they are a musician's band who slowly hypnotise all." The liner notes feature two essays about both "Playing the Fool" and "Civilian". The booklet centrefold is a concert pic with a weird progress chart showing all the concert locations during the tour appearing like some alignment of the stars. Certainly the stars were in alignment when the band played this concert. It is flawless.

The guitar on 'So Sincere' is jaw dropping for instance, and Shulman's vocals are spot on target. Many of these tracks are better than the original studio takes. I love how the band move from track to track seamlessly blending them in and pushing the boundaries with incredible harmonies and musicianship. John Weathers' extended tribal drum solo on 'So Sincere' is worth a listen too along with Minnear's vibes. The violin of Ray is also wonderful throughout, such as on 'Sweet Georgia Brown'. It is really is an incredible performance from the whole band. It is hands down Gentle Giant's best album.

Report this review (#729711)
Posted Monday, April 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I had to write this review mainly because of the review that was done right before this one. How anyone can think that there were no original compositions on this album? Thinking the songs sounding exactly like their studio counterparts is perplexing. Has to be a joke or they did not even listen to this record. The thing that blew me away most was the complete rearrangement of "On Relection", "Octopus', the extensions of "Funny Ways" and "So Sincere", The combination of "Proclamation" and "Valedictory" and also "The Runaway" and "Experience." It's also great to hear "Freehand" and "Just the Same "play like the record because you want to hear them duplicate the complexity live - which Gentle Giant did. When I was a kid in the 70's I have always heard that this was the best live rock album of all time. I have never even heard of them back then but was always intrigued by such a statement. While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, there is little doubt that "Playing the Fool" is a live album to be reckoned with. In an age where there were no digital files, autotune or protools makes GG's performance even more impressive on the studio albums. But live? Even more impressive.

Report this review (#1031346)
Posted Monday, September 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Certainly I have been accused of playing the fool on more than one occasion. Just ask my wife! But, I'll save that for another day. In regards to this album let me say that it's one of the best live albums I have ever heard and this coming from a guy who doesn't typically enjoy live albums. In fact I really kind of loathe them. A live album is a lot like an opera album. Sure it can sound nice, but one of the main aspects of the album is always missing - the visual aspect. A live album is generally a document of a concert or series of concerts. What makes a concert truly enjoyable is seeing your favorite band in person. I can't tell you the number of times I have gone to a concert thinking, "wow, this band is pretty good!" only to go home and listen to a bootleg of the concert wondering what the hell I saw in them. Opera needs to be seen more than heard as well. It's about the costumes and the acting as much as it's about the music and the singing. Now, there are always exceptions to the rule and that brings us to this incredible album. It's rare that you can actually enjoy a concert you never went to just by listening to it. Gentle Giant is phenomenal on this album. Their energy is infectious. They are having a wonderful time on the stage and seem to be taking a jazz band approach to their music by doing quite a bit of improvising which also helps the songs come alive. You don't need to see it to enjoy it, although the concerts used on this album must've been quite extraordinary to have seen live. I would even go as far as to say that some of their songs sound better live here then they did on the studio albums. Certainly "Just the Same" , "Free Hand" and "Funny Ways" outdo their studio counterparts. "On Reflection" is beautifully done, the opening of which gives one the feeling of being at a Renaissance Faire. Actually this song is a perfect distillation of Gentle Giant. It's part rock, part folk, part jazz, part medieval polyphony and of course part renaissance dance music. Amazing. "So Sincere" is another standout featuring some nice violin & acoustic guitar interplay to open up the song before some fiery electric guitar joins in and takes the song in an entirely different direction. A very complex song with some terrific keyboard playing too. One of the best things about this album is how great it sounds! It was recorded beautifully and the presence is amazing. You really feel like you are at the concert! A truly outstanding album and an essential addition for every proghead.
Report this review (#1153919)
Posted Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Playing the Fool' - Gentle Giant (82/100)

At the end of the day- when all is said and done, Gentle Giant's music leaves a mixed impression on me. Everything they had ever done up to and including their definitive live document Playing the Fool was seemingly layered with a hundred thousand twists, and damned-near a million parts of an often preposterously overdone musical arrangement. For better and worse, Gentle Giant embodied progressive rock by taking all of its traits, conventions and clich's, and systematically amplifying them past the point of good sense. Especially towards the de facto 'peak' of their career, Gentle Giant's music grew increasingly dry as a result of this approach, and I get the impression that they used this proggier-than-thou mindset to excuse the sore lack of emotional resonance in their music. To effectively summarize, I don't think Gentle Giant were ever quite as brilliant as some folks like to give them credit for.

But to hear it live is different. Hearing mind-bending arrangements conjured in-studio goes far enough, but there's always the nagging knowledge that the various layers were recorded one at a time; each musician's individual proficiency is strained to its limits, but there's little telling whether they would ever be able to pull it off live. The ultimate measuring stick of musicianship is the live arena. With that in mind, Playing the Fool is, in many ways, a confirmation of what was only ever implied by Gentle Giant's studio recordings. By some miracle of organization, Gentle Giant were able to replicate the wild instrumental eclecticism- whatever changes they've made to the arrangements were done to make it refreshing rather than convenient.

With seven albums of largely quality material to choose from, Gentle Giant had the hefty challenge on their hands of picking the best set of tunes. Unsurprisingly Playing the Fool racks up close to 80 minutes of time- over twice as long as the next-longest album in their discography. Even then, it still feels like Gentle Giant were conscious of the constraints of time when recording the album. Although some songs get true- to-studio replications ("Just the Same" was a perfect choice for opener in my opinion) most of the tracks represented are compounded into medleys. While this would normally feel unsatisfying in a prog context, it is perfect for Gentle Giant, who were always better composers than they were songwriters. They were clever in arranging these medleys, taking their strongest ideas and recontextualizing them in a way that should sound fresh to stonecold veterans of the studio work. "Excerpts from Octopus" is the best example on the album in this regard, of a medley that condenses many of the coolest moments from the album into a makeshift epic. The idea-heavy medley approach gives Gentle Giant's performance a rejuvenated sense of urgency. It is puzzling, however, that nothing substantial from their magnum opus Acquiring the Taste was included.

I get the certain feeling that Gentle Giant made Playing the Fool with the distinct intention of proving to the prog-weary masses that they could, in fact, perform everything heard on their albums without the help of studio magic. It might explain why they included some of their most challenging work. The fact that they can perform it, and perform it with near-perfection gives Playing the Fool a state of grace unto itself. In particular, hearing each band member's voice tackling the "On Reflection" a capella is tremendous; you can hear it in the spontaneous applause that the audience are stupified that GG could pull that off. What's potentially even more impressive is the fact that the eclectic instrumental musical chairs that Gentle Giant loved to play in-studio is here as well. Just like in studio the sporadic parts pass off from one side of the stereo to another, and much like the studio, there are usually too many instruments to count. Here's a rare case where I would love to have experienced Playing the Fool as a DVD; from the sound alone it's still hard to believe it's five guys playing it at once, and a visual component would have helped to set the record straight.

Comparisons to Yes' Yessongs do not go unfounded. Gentle Giant's music may not be as personally satisfying as Yes', but Playing the Fool hits all of the same marks relative to GG's now-legendary career. There are plenty of moments here that leave me with a sense of awe and wonder: how in the hell did they do some of this stuff? Gentle Giant demand respect on the merit of their technical capacity, and I don't think any other release of theirs demonstrated it quite so well.

Report this review (#1367905)
Posted Thursday, February 12, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Review Nş 46

Gentle Giant is, for me, one of the best ten progressive bands that have already existed and is surely one of the most innovative and experimental of all. Gentle Giant is a truly progressive band in all the meanings of the word and always has been a band that never made big commitments, to become a more commercial group. Compared to some other huge bands at the time, such as Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, for instance, the Gentle Giant's music was always extremely complex and intricate. It was the main reason that never helped them to expand more their fan base.

'Playing The Fool' is their debut live album and was released in 1977. This live album was recorded one year after their eighth studio album 'Interview' released in 1976, which is in general considered the last great studio work of Gentle Giant. 'Playing The Fool' is a perfect example that demonstrates in live, the group's complex musicianship and talent as well as showcasing versions of themes which are in some cases greatly modified from their original studio versions. This is even more remarkable, due to the great complexity of the band's music and which seems to me that is extremely difficult to be performed live. However, Gentle Giant played their complicated music with all perfection.

My 'Playing The Fool' version is the Castle CD. So, my 'Playing The Fool' is a live album with nine tracks and this is the version that I will review. In some cases the tracks are divided in two parts that corresponding to songs which were played together. The first track 'Just The Same/Proclamation' opens the show in a very effective way and 'Proclamation' actually turns into 'Valedictory', the last track on 'The Power And Glory', towards the end. 'Just The Same' and 'Proclamation' were originally released on 'Free Hand' and 'The Power And The Glory' in 1975 and 1974, respectively. The track was performed live in D'sseldorf, Germany. The second track 'On Reflection' was rewrite when compared with the original version. The middle section has been moved to the beginning and a completely new theme appears at the end of the song. It was originally released on 'Free Hand'. The track was performed live in D'sseldorf, Germany. The third track 'Excerpts From Octopus' is a 15 minute medley of their album 'Octopus' released in 1972. It was a version partly and strongly rearranged of parts from the record. It opens with "The Boys In The Band" that goes into acoustic instrumental versions of "Raconteur Troubadour" and "A Cry For Everyone" before going into "Knots" and the highlight of the medley, "The Advent Of Panurge". The latter one has been extended by a recorder part in the middle that further strengthens the song's medieval feel. The track was performed live in Paris, France. The fourth track 'Funny Ways' was originally released on 'Gentle Giant' in 1970 and features a lengthy solo on vibes. The track was performed live in Munich, Germany. The fifth track 'The Runway/Experience' is made of two tracks originally released on 'In A Glass House' in 1973. Here, Derek Shulman is singing the Minnear's parts on 'Experience', and the heavy mid-part is slightly faster than on the original version. The track was performed live in Paris, France. The sixth track 'So Sincere' has been stretched out to ten minutes by a lengthy instrumental part that starts with some really sparkling guitar work from Green, before it goes into a percussion part that is really better than the usual drum solos you'll find on most live albums. It was originally released on 'The Power And The Glory'. The track was performed live in Paris, France. The seventh track 'Free Hand' is, as you would expect, hard rocking and energetic. They even dropped the quiet mid part in favour of a much louder jam. It was originally released on 'Free Hand'. The track was performed live in Brussels, Belgium. The eighth track 'Sweet Georgia Brown' is an original and very short instrumental piece that sounds as a jazz piece of music based on violin. The track was performed live in Brussels, Belgium. The ninth track 'Peel The Paint/I Lost My Head' is a short version of two tracks originally released on 'Three Friends' and 'Interview' in 1972 and 1976, respectively. The track was performed live in Paris, France.

Conclusion: Gentle Giant never ceased to impress me, except after the 'Interview' album. Too bad their last three studio albums which are more pop oriented and have clearly shown the signs of weakness as the truly dark ages that were pointing at the horizon of the progressive rock music. However, Gentle Giant had proudly let their personal mark in the progressive rock music, and until then, their musical quality level had rarely been equalled. 'Playing The Fool' is without any doubt one of those cases. It has great performances of a very complicated and technically brilliant music. The final result is a very good track list with a great sound quality level. All of these factors contribute to that 'Playing The Fool' can be seeing as a great live album. With it, we have a great live album that will long live in the progressive rock history as one of the best live albums ever made by one of the best and most unique bands of the genre.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Report this review (#1504315)
Posted Sunday, December 27, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Though it's rounded off with a mashup of Peel the Paint from Three Friends and I Lost My Head - the closing number from the then-current album Interview - which I find to be more interesting than either studio rendition, for the most part Playing the Fool concentrates on Gentle Giant's run of classics from Octopus to Free Hand. The end result is an excellent live set from the Interview tour which really teases out the best the band had to offer, and offers a far superior bookend to their "high prog" phase than the somewhat tepid Interview studio album.

Subsequent studio releases would find them casting about for a new sound - eventually hitting on a prog-New Wave mashup on Civilian which, shall we say, has proved a bit divisive over the years - and from the 1990s onwards various archival releases have offered a range of other live sets from the group for fans' listening enjoyment. For my money, though, Playing the Fool well and truly sets the bar by which all Gentle Giant live releases can be measured - and by that token, it establishes the gold standard for progressive rock live releases in general.

Report this review (#1954220)
Posted Thursday, August 2, 2018 | Review Permalink

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