The Bath Forum Concert by Van Der Graaf GeneratorRelease date: March 10, 2023
Label: Esoteric Recordings
“Well. Well, well, well.” Peter Hammill says after a roaring applause while he, Guy Evans, and Hugh Banton get down to business at The Forum in Bath, England last year on Tuesday March 1st, 2022. The moment that Van Der Graaf Generator play ‘Interference Patterns’, you can just close your eyes and imagine yourself being at the venue. Almost nearly two years when everything shut down due to the pandemic and COVID-19.
But here, and now, the recording that has been released by Esoteric Recordings, showcases the three-piece playing their hearts out, and honoring their fans with absolute justice. It becomes a dangerous tightrope when they play the opening track and never knowing when the rope will be cut before going into the dystopian nightmares of ‘Every Bloody Emperor’ from their 2005 comeback album, Present.
A few weeks ago, the war between Russia and Ukraine began on February 24th. Before they go into the song, Peter tells the audience, “In current circumstances, we have absolutely no choice but to play this tune.” And boy, do they circulate the weathers with on this song. Yes it’s different without Jackson’s hypnotic sax work, but the way that Hammill and Evans handle the situation, is to make it more challenging by improvising Jackson’s solo exercise on their keyboards.
And it works quite well! You feel the grey clouds coming in the midsection while they handle the heavy thunderstorms inside the venue while Peter goes into this theatrical measure work on his vocals, knowing that his character has caused massive chaos, doom, decay, and no chance in hell to redeem himself of the damage he has done to the people, and the city itself.
If you think this is over, think again. They delve into one of Hammill’s compositions from The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage, the 12-minute operatic ‘A Louse is Not a Home’. For them to revisit this suite, is like dusting off an old book you haven’t read for a long, long time. While I love the studio version of the song, the live version from the set, gets down to business on the 3-minute mark.
And we ain’t talkin’ about The Exorcist, ladies and gentlemen, this is as Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange says, “A Real Horrorshow”. There are moments where it gets chaotic and little bit early in that section, but they pull through as Hammill becomes the captain of the ship, steering through the massive waves crashing through the boat as he screams to the gods like a madmen as his fellow shipmates watch every step he makes.
While they go through two tracks from the Still Life album between ‘Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End’ and the signals of madness coming back into the fold once more on ‘La Rossa’, they also played new songs from their 2016 release Do Not Disturb. From the reflection of their younger years of a parallel universe with dooming guitar melodies that would have made Black Sabbath in awe on ‘Alfa Berlina’, and nods to ‘This Side of the Looking Glass’ on ‘Room 1210’, followed by a terrifying jazzier approach on ‘Over The Hill’ from their Trisector years.
You can hear elements of ‘Your Time Starts Now’ as if Van Der Graaf wrote a prequel of the song, but with a Miles Davis approach from his Kind of Blue years, honouring Bill Evans’ arrangements, mixed in with a Schoenberg-sque atmosphere from Pierrot Lunaire. It would have made both maestros very happy to see the combination of the two, surprise audiences with their jaws dropped for the heat gage to go up at any second.
And they close it off with ‘Man-Erg’ and ‘A House with No Door’ by bringing the curtain down to an astonishing crowd. Whenever I put on either a Van der Graaf or one of Peter Hammill’s solo albums, I get put inside this imaginative movie brought to life on the silver screen. But here, from The Bath Forum Concert, not only it becomes a surreal and terrifying release that Esoteric have unleashed, but they come back swinging with electricity running from their veins, knowing they have each other’s back.