Live Report: Van Der Graaf Generator

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Live Report

Venue : O2 ABC Academy (25/03/11) An air of trepidation greeted us on arrival at the ABC.  Frontman Pete Hammill performing with his seminal band for the first time in Glasgow for 6 years, following a pretty serious heart-scare, while integral member David Jackson has decided to hang up the saxophones for good.  Either he’s lost the lung capacity to blow two horns at the same time (just one would have been fine Mr Jackson!) or he’s had a serious fall out with the rest of Van Der Graaf Generator.

Still, Hammill and co performed admirably without him, though even still, a few days after this gig,  a lingering feeling remains that there was a certain flourish missing to the odd track.

While 2007’s Trisector had Van Der Graaf tentatively finding their feet following Jackson’s departure, A Grounding In Numbers,  in contrast, has them back in full tilt.   Firstly, Hammill himself is a one off, rake thin with a polite demeanour: in short, a totally unique individual.  It’s easy to see why the likes of John Lydon and David Bowie borrowed (i.e. stole) heavily from him. A precocious talent with a huge voice to match, strange mannerisms, even stranger lyrics and an unorthodox guitar style that’s very much his own — given such a performance you really had to wonder if he actually suffered a heart-attack?   With synth/organ/keys man Hugh Banton picking up much of the slack for the missing saxophone and flute parts, the unsung hero of the show was  clearly sticksman Guy Evans,  who is simply an absolute world-class drummer, up there with any percussionist you could care to mention.

Highlights, at the show, included the monumental ‘Lemmings‘,  with the band seemingly all playing different things before catching it all and erupting with a thunderous roar, all held together by Evans’ astute playing.  New tracks, ‘Busho!’ and, a world-premiere of,  ‘Mathematics‘ also went down very well, both very complex tracks with Hammill literally squeezing his plentiful lyrics into rhythms that probably shouldn’t be!

However, it was penultimate number ‘Songwriter’s Guild‘ that stole the show, just when you thought you had a handle on the band’s groove, Van Der Graaf would veer off into a completely new and unexpected tangents on a regular basis, almost schizophrenic-like. With fans demanding an encore, the band duly obliged with ‘Nutter Alert‘ and although it was performed brilliantly, it really did miss Jackson’s saxophone drive and in hindsight they probably should have excluded a reprise.

Pete Hammill’s last solo gig in Glasgow at Oran Mor, left me feeling a little deflated giving melancholic atmosphere at that gig.  Van Der Graaf, though, was the exact opposite, leaving me to feel resurgent and passionate and bloody glad I got a chance to see Hammill and the boys again, as I gather there was some serious soul-searching when they lost David Jackson. An enigma of a band with absolutely no peers, a total one-off.  There has never been a band like Van Der Graaf Generator, nor will they ever be.  If you ever get the chance to see them perform, please take it.

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