Alternative music reviews

April 1, 2008

Obliterate the Past – Van Der Graaf Generator, RNCM Manchester, March 27th 2008

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So here we are at last; the time has gone so fast and so have my dreams. I’ve been listening to the music of Van der Graaf Generator for over 30 years, and they’ve been making it, in some shape or form, for over 40. To classify them lazily (and somewhat contemptuously) as ‘Prog’ doesn’t do justice to the breadth and depth of their work. Thursday’s performance at Manchester’s RNCM (as the first date of this years European jaunt) sees a return to an intimate venue with a decent sound, and with a new album (‘Trisector’) to promote, much is anticipated.

Unfortunately there is a big hole at the centre of everything with the absence of Dave Jackson (he couldn’t make the “leap of faith” that being in VDGG demands, according to a Hammill newsletter), which means that the renditions of old favorites such as ‘Scorched Earth’, ‘Lemmings’, ‘Black Room’ (a rare outing) and ‘Man-Erg’ don’t scale the peaks of old, and I found myself mentally adding the sax parts in compensation. Nonetheless, ‘Still Life’ remains (to my mind, at least) a masterpiece, and a typically manic encore of ‘Nutter Alert’ sends the majority home happy.

However, I made my way home somewhat uneasily, no longer sure of what I expected, or what I got from the evening. Hammill and co. are much more than a soulless ‘greatest hits’ retread, but the difficulties of selecting a representative two hours from their complete recorded works result in a show that falls uncomfortably between nostalgia and an attempt to show that their contemporary output is equally valid. VDGG live remain endearingly ramshackle (Hammill still gives no indication that he has in any way mastered the guitar, although as he quips whilst re-tuning “it took a hell of a beating”) and there is a warm interaction between band and audience. When (if) they come round again, I think I’ll stay at home in a darkened room listening to ‘Pawn Hearts’. On vinyl…

Review by Big Dave

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