Vital: Van der Graaf Live is the first live album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was recorded 16 January 1978 at the Marquee Club in London and was released in July, one month after the band’s 1978 break-up. The album (on vinyl and, later, on CD) was credited under the abbreviated name Van der Graaf, like the previous year’s Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, and featured the same line-up plus newcomer cellist/keyboardist Charles Dickie, who had officially joined the band in August 1977, and original saxophonist and flautist David Jackson, who re-joined the band for this recording.
The album is noted for its sometimes radical reworking of the older material. Although Van der Graaf Generator were seldom less than intense on stage, the 1977 and 1978 tours were remarkable for their ferocity. The absence of Hugh Banton, whose organ work was a hallmark of the group’s sound before his departure in 1976, as well as frontman Peter Hammill’s increased duties as a rhythm guitarist, account for much of this and sacrificing the subtlety for ferocity is detrimental to this record.
For a well-known prog rock band, Vital displays quite a punky attitude and sound in its songs: the bass sounds loud, fuzzy and dirty which is sometimes nice, especially pounding out the riff to Pioneers in C, but at other times it overwhelms the rest of the group and the record is not helped by the rather poor production. It’s a strange album to listen to: part punk, a dash of free-from jazz, awful 6th form poetry disguised as something deep and meaningful, and just a whole bunch of noise that the songs just seems to blend into one another. The production on this album (well the version I heard) is godawful and leads me to believe that the producer has some sort of ear infection when he took this job on.
I didn’t want to give up on this band, they’re loved in prog-rock circles, so I decided to give this band a fair shake and see if I was missing anything. I listened to the studio versions of the songs on here and, knock me down with a feather, they were far more superior and dynamic than the live versions. Hugh Banton’s organ fleshes out the studio songs in a deeper way that the, very different, live versions here fail to do.
Whilst I’ve not been fully converted to VDGG’s music, I now do enjoy a song or two of theirs and I can see what the fuss is about them, prog wise, but dear lord this live album should be given a serious body swerve. There was not a lot of enjoyment here for me, the really dire production did not help its cause, the overly fuzzy bass and the lack of any subtlety in the songs made this a slog for me and I listened to it three times!
Slightly better than that Camel record but not by much. Avoid this one and try their studio albums instead. 3/10
Up next, more of my musical ignorance on display as Little Feat appear in my crosshairs. TTFN.