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Gentle Giant Playing the Fool - The Official Live album cover
4.52 | 500 ratings | 48 reviews | 64% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Live, released in 1977

Songs / Tracks Listing

Vinyl and Essential CD releases:
1. Just the Same / Proclamation (11:17)
2. On Reflection (6:27)
3. Excerpts from Octopus (15:39)
4. Funny Ways (8:31)
5. The Runaway / Experience (9:31)
6. So Sincere (10:19)
7. Free Hand (7:40)
8. Breakdown in Brussels [a.k.a. Sweet Georgia Brown] (1:22) *
9. Peel the Paint / I Lost My Head (7:27)

Total Time 78:13

* omitted from the Essential CD release

Terrapin Trucking CD release:
1. Introduction (0:37)
2. Just the Same (5:21)
3. Proclamation (3:41)
4. Valedictory (1:35)
5. On Reflection (rearranged) (6:21)
6. The Boys in the Band (3:22)
7. Raconteur Troubadour (acoustic guitar instrumental) (1:40)
8. Acquiring the Taste (rearranged for acoustic guitar) (1:00)
9. Knots (2:35)
10. Organ Bridge (0:53)
11. The Advent of Panurge (2:37)
12. The Famous Recorder Quartet (1:51)
13. The Advent of Panurge (continued) (1:37)
14. Funny Ways (8:30)
15. The Runaway (3:43)
16. Experience (4:45)
17. So Sincere (5:15)
18. Drum and Percussion Bash (5:01)
19. Free Hand (7:36)
20. Sweet Georgia Brown (1:15)
21. Peel the Paint (1:33)
22. I Lost My Head (5:54)

Total Time 76:42

Line-up / Musicians

- Gary Green / electric guitar, acoustic guitar, 12 string guitar, alto recorder, descant recorder, vocals, percussion
- Kerry Minnear / keyboards, cello, vibes, tenor recorder, vocals, percussion
- Derek Shulman / vocals, alto saxophone, descant recorder, bass, percussion
- Ray Shulman / bass, violin, acoustic guitar, descant recorder, trumpet, vocals, percussion
- John Weathers / drums, vibes, tambour, vocals, percussion

Releases information

2LP Chrysalis CTY1133 (1977 UK)
2LP Capitol Records SKBB-11592 (1977 US)
CD Essential ESSCD006 (1989 UK)
CD Terrapin Trucking Co. TRUCK CD 009 (1994 UK)
2CD Drt Entertainment RTE00354 (2005 US) (remaster, 35th anniversary edition, with bonus tracks/disc)
CD Alucard ALU-GG-014 (2009 UK)
CD Chrysalis WPCR16293 (2015 Japan)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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Buy GENTLE GIANT Playing the Fool - The Official Live Music

GENTLE GIANT Playing the Fool - The Official Live ratings distribution

(500 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(64%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(28%)
Good, but non-essential (6%)
Collectors/fans only (2%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

GENTLE GIANT Playing the Fool - The Official Live reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Bj-1
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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 naïve - 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.

Review by Alucard
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.
Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by soundsweird
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.
Review by 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!
Review by 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.
Review by 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

Review by daveconn
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.
Review by NJprogfan
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.
Review by OpethGuitarist
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!

Review by 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.

Review by 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.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by friso
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.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!

Review by Dobermensch
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.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR 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!
Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by 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.

Review by VianaProghead
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*)

Review by Warthur
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.

Latest members reviews

4 stars One of the most complex 70's prog rock live albums out there? Possibly. GG proved to be compelling live players (I would love to have a single camera on the keyboard player who must have done a lot of context switching). The choice of material is great, focusing on the the material before 1977 a ... (read more)

Report this review (#3050428) | Posted by sgtpepper | Saturday, April 27, 2024 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Underrated, overlooked, lost in the vaults ... how about Gentle Giant? Gentle Giant is one of those prog bands and artists (like King Crimson and Frank Zappa) that evoke strong opposite musical experiences to me. The one moment I am blown away by their jawdropping skills, great musical ideas an ... (read more)

Report this review (#3031678) | Posted by TenYearsAfter | Thursday, March 21, 2024 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Review #104 Gentle Giant's official live album is wonderful; it's a compilation of most of the most popular songs from their better albums: "Octopus", "In a glass house", "The power and the glory" and "Free hand" were played almost in their totalities besides one song from each "Three friends ... (read more)

Report this review (#2598069) | Posted by Uruk_hai | Friday, October 1, 2021 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I've known since the early 70's that I liked this band, and I've always appreciated the aspect of newer bands that borrowed selectively from the Gentle Giant sound. Yet I shunned this cd for many years with unfounded biases of overindulgence and potential eccentricities. My bad. Please don't mak ... (read more)

Report this review (#2440060) | Posted by Squire Jaco | Friday, August 21, 2020 | Review Permanlink

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. ... (read more)

Report this review (#1153919) | Posted by Prog 74 | Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 liste ... (read more)

Report this review (#1031346) | Posted by ster | Monday, September 9, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#277659) | Posted by The Runaway | Monday, April 12, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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 v ... (read more)

Report this review (#185750) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Tuesday, October 14, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#174987) | Posted by Sander | Monday, June 23, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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 wit ... (read more)

Report this review (#172911) | Posted by peskypesky | Monday, June 2, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#123978) | Posted by cherry5 | Wednesday, May 30, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#117459) | Posted by infandous | Friday, April 6, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars SIMPLY THE BEST LIVE-ALBUM I HAVE EVER HEARD. 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 wi ... (read more)

Report this review (#105587) | Posted by Badabec | Thursday, January 4, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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 t ... (read more)

Report this review (#100579) | Posted by nebenfluss | Monday, November 27, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 In ... (read more)

Report this review (#79408) | Posted by Vibrationbaby | Friday, May 26, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 blo ... (read more)

Report this review (#52592) | Posted by Shaikoten | Friday, October 21, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 sh ... (read more)

Report this review (#47275) | Posted by braindamage | Monday, September 19, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#46461) | Posted by | Monday, September 12, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 t ... (read more)

Report this review (#44604) | Posted by robertplantowns | Sunday, August 28, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 f ... (read more)

Report this review (#6211) | Posted by The Mentalist | Monday, December 27, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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