Esoteric Antenna (label)
01 February 2015 (released)
22 February 2015
Van Der Graaf Generator have never been the band to put on as background or to treat as ‘Prog Lite’, in fact many Prog fans regard them as too difficult to understand and too uncompromising in their approach but they have been making music of remarkable power and subtlety since 1967 and this release sees them stripped down to a 3 piece – Peter Hammill on vocals, guitar and piano, Hugh Banton on Organ and bass pedals and Guy Evans on drums and percussion – and it has given them a chance to revisit some classic tracks and change the formats to suit the smaller outfit.
The music still has the air of impending doom and destruction but it somehow feels that as a three piece there is less likelihood that one of them will screw up and throw a finely tuned machine into reverse – on the other hand, such is the improvisational heart of their playing, it is still a wild ride gripping with both hands and buttocks clenched – 1 Direction they ain’t (thank the lords).
Hammill’s vocals are as strident and emotive as ever while Banton’s organ somehow delivers melody and texture all at once, his playing underpinning the vocal and adding to the songs without ever being the true focal point of the sound. Evans drums and percussion are also a remarkable textural weapon, not so much a rhythmic device as a guide to the pace and changes of the songs.
The audience is, as you would expect, attentive and warmly rewards the bands efforts and the band themselves seem to respond to that but one is always an observer to the happenings onstage and there is little to suggest communication other than through the music.
‘Flight’ definitely gains from the new band format with more apparent space in the sound and ‘Bunsho’ is as massive and powerful as ever but the real standout, for me, is a stunning rendition of ‘A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers’ with wondrous ebb and flow of the intensity, honking sirens and Hammill’s vocals more musical than I have heard them in years. Apparently the fans in Dresden brought their own lighthouse to the gig and the reaction to this difficult piece is wonderful.
Since they reformed in 2005 (after Hammill’s heart attack in 2003) the band have toured regularly and constantly reworked their music to greater or lesser extent; this album probably shows them at their best for many years. A wonderful addition to the VDGG canon.
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