Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Van der Graaf Generator @ RNCM, 28.06.13

Sturm und drang, crash and bang; Van der Graaf Generator collide with the RNCM in Manchester and fashion a nerve tingling victory. This trio of distinguished looking elder gents simply do not conform and on a weekend when the Stones slickly karaoke their way around a field in Somerset, it's a pleasure to see a band nearly of their vintage splinter and twist their catalogue into a new whole.

The band is now a trio of Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton and drummer Guy Evans and they began their career at the University of Manchester in 1967. They have always embodied the shifting definition of art rock and have somehow managed the Tony Benn trick of getting more radical as they get older. This show has two poles: a version of the instrumental ‘Flight’ and a semi-improvised, semi-lunatic version of 'A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers' from their 1971 album Pawn Hearts, and between them there is much improvisational messing to enjoy.

The greatest joy for me and the capacity love-struck, middle-aged crowd is the interplay between the musicians. Evans has a drumming suppleness and casual swing that just doesn't seem right and his empathy with vocalist Hammill is a wonder to behold. Peter Hammill's singing is intriguing as he often seems to reach the limit of his range then push past it, and then push past it again. Special mention goes to Hugh Banton, a Cheshire based builder of organs who plays keyboards, triggers special effects and negotiates a bewildering range of bass pedals, while looking to all like a vicar in a BBC daytime drama.

Van der Graaf are simultaneously prog and punk, witty and frightening. Their leader wears the ‘shuffling to the paper shop’ uniform of tracksuit bottoms and smart shoes, whilst singing with a voice that sounds like Brian Ferry being prodded by hot pokers in hell, blasting forth from his tiny frame. Stunningly wonderful.

Words: John Wigley.
Live photograph: Monique Devic.
Press photo: courtesy of vandergraafgenerator.co.uk

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