Van Der Graaf Generator
Thursday, 24th March 2011
The Assembly, Leamington Spa, The UK
Article By Jez Rowden & Photographs by Phil Smart
Van der Graaf Generator’s return to activity, both in the studio and live,
is one of the most anticipated events of 2011 for me and after the release of the second trio album,
the excellent A Grounding in Numbers, a string of dates across the U.K. and Europe are a mouth-watering prospect.
The Assembly in Leamington Spa, an impressive venue set out all seated tonight,
was full of expectant fans for the first night of the tour and much to my surprise I got a front row seat near Hugh Banton’s keyboard rig.
The band appeared on stage at around half-past 8 to warm applause.
Banton and Peter Hammill in shirts as white as their hair, took up their positions facing each other stage left and right respectively with Guy Evans between them and further back.
Final adjustments made they set out their stall nicely with keyboards meshing on a great version of Interference Patterns from 2008s Trisector.
The focus was clearly with the first half of the set being completely comprised of post-2005 reformation tracks, only one of these from the quartet release Present.
Of the rest we got a fair sprinkling from Trisector (5 tracks) and 4 from the new album.
This may have been a disappointment to some but, as Hammill stated, they are trying to be a modern band.
Also, much of this material is better suited to the current trio line-up.
Overall, the focus on up to date material is a good thing as far as I can see it as there are too many long-established bands simply ploughing the nostalgia furrow at the moment
and it is marvellous to see a band with such a history trying new things and striving to move forward,
not to rid themselves of their past but to remain current while allowing them to refer back to the classic material with affection, not just as the be all and end all of their performance.
After all, no one goes to a VdGG gig expecting an easy ride!
Nutter Alert was as psychotic as one would hope and Your Time Starts Now, the laid-back lead piece to A Grounding.., simply beautiful in its melancholy way.
Hammill alternated between keys and guitar and appeared to be having a struggle with his settings and tuning leading to extended delays as he peered at his pedals,
Banton and Evans sitting patiently waiting for the signal to start.
There were some missed cues and the odd flubbed passage but this did not detract from the proceedings and as this was their first proper show after a long lay-off it could be forgiven.
Hammill has never been what you could regard as a cultured virtuoso of the guitar and that is not what fans would want from him but to my ears he made a bit of a mess of Bunsho
which was a shame as this is one of my favourite tracks from the latest release.
But never mind, it was still an enthralling watch, all three of the players concentrating and generally playing the difficult material well.
Hammill was in fine form, THAT voice delivering his thoughtful lyrics with just the right degree of gravitas.
Hugh Banton is the secret weapon wringing all manner of sounds out of his basic rig of two keyboards with controller, adding bass as usual via foot pedals and blasts of organ power when required.
A unique musician it was wonderful to watch from a place where you could just absorb all that he adds to this complex and emotional music.
Guy Evans has to be one of the most underrated drummers out there and tonight he was simply superb,
calmly varying his playing with subtlety when required and performing out of his skin when the music called upon him to do so such as on Hammill’s ode to ageing, All That Before.
All three drive each other along and are a truly formidable live unit as evidenced on the final lengthy double punch from Trisector,
Over the Hill and (We Are) Not Here, and the trio of ‘70s material played; Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End, Man-erg and encore The Sleepwalkers.
They seemed more comfortable with the vintage material and played as if their lives depended upon it, fully justifying the standing ovations at the end of the main set and after the encore.
Afterwards I doubt that there were many present who would have been disappointed with the show.
Some would clearly have liked to see David Jackson back in the fold and more time given over to the classic early material but,
frankly, to have a band of this calibre still playing at all and giving it their all is good enough for me.
I suspect that the error count will reduce over the next few shows as the cobwebs get blown away and when they start to hit their stride
these shows are sure to picked by many as their favourite gigs of 2011.
Your Time Starts Now
All That Before
Childlike Faith in Childhood's End
All Over The Place (premier)
Over The Hill
(We Are) Not Here
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