England - Full Moon 128 - 03/04/07
Van der Graaf Generator
I've never heard this album. It's the first time in my life I've reviewed an album I haven't listened to at all... It will not be released until the 5th of March, the day after the full moon. Still, I feel quite comfortable about the task.
Real Time is the recording of the entire reunion concert of Van der Graaf Generator at the Royal Festival Hall in London on the 6th of May 2005. It was the first concert by the classic line-up of Hugh Banton (organs), Guy Evans (drums), Peter Hammill (vocals, guitar and electric piano) and David Jackson (saxes, flutes and assorted devices) since the 9th of December 1976. Though they came together unannounced and played one VdGG song at a special event at the Union Chapel in London in 1996 and an another unannounced encore at a Hammill gig in London in February 2003. Here's what I wrote about the Royal Festival Hall gig in the review of VdGG's new studio album Present in May 2005:
'I was one of the 3,500 or so privileged to get tickets for VdGG's very first full public performance in about 28.5 years at the RFH in the beginning of this moonth. It was an exhilarating and exhausting event. About all my greatest expectations were fulfilled. They only played
two songs off Present, the most obvious choices "Every Bloody Emperor" and "Nutter Alert". ... The old songs, including a few surprises, sounded as fresh and relevant today as ever. The quartet has never released any proper live album. I guess they won't find a better time to do so than now. ...'
And here it is, finally. Well worth the wait, though it's taken almost two years. Originally the live album was to be released by EMI that put a lot of efforts into the marketing of Present. It probably didn't fare as well as expected and the company eventually turned Real Time down. But while Present was a somewhat lukewarm half-way improvised studio album recorded by the band members themselves in a living room, Real Time is the full blown live album by the quartet that we didn't get in the 1970s. In the end Peter Hammill put out the album himself, on his own Fie! label. This is really good news for those of us who hate EMI's copy protected discs! Apart from the two songs off Present, the two discs are filled with classics from VdGG's first generation (1969-1972) and second generation (1975-76) period. At the gig I was quite dizzy and content after the first three songs "The Undercover Man", "Scorched Earth" (the A-side of the monster 1975 LP Godbluff) and "Refugees", the closest VdGG ever got to something like a ballad. The rest of the evening was pure bonus. The bonus material included great versions of "(In The) Black Room" a full-blown VdGG-song off Hammill's second and darkest solo album Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night, "Darkness", "Childlike Faith In Childhood's End", "The Sleepwalkers", "Man-Erg", "Killer" and "Wondering" and a few more. If you're looking for highly original and personal gloomy, doomy and dense progressive rock in the same league as 1970s King Crimson - if ever there was one - with a touch of jazz, musical and pre-punk, look no further.
Normally I don't think it's a good idea to reunite after several decades to earn some cash from the glory of the past. In the spring of 2005 VdGG proved me wrong with a challenging new album and a magic gig as tense as their gigs in the 70s, I guess, tense both on stage and among the audience, yours truly included. I got a first class audience recording of the gig a week after the event that certainly preserves the tensions present that evening. If Real Time is as good - and tense - here finally is the superb live recording I've been missing from the 70s.
Throughout the summer and autumn 2005 VdGG kept touring but eventually didn't seem to be as challenging as the Royal Festival Hall gig indicated. In addition to the 14 songs present on Real Time, I think they only added five more songs to their set-list off the 70s back catalogue. Also, there seems to have been
personal tensions within the band. David Jackson abandoned ship after they had finished touring. A great shame! On the other hand the remaining trio will face new challenges with old and new songs and arrangements. Banton, Evans and Hammill will start touring Britain and the continent in April. Meanwhile - and
afterwards - Real Time is an excellent testament from the classic quartet of the 70s and 2005.
Copyright © 2007 JP