Gentle Giant - Live (Playing The Fool) / Civilian

Year of Release: 1999
Label: BGO Records
Catalog Number: BGOCD435
Format: CD
Total Time: 115:13:00

The 1970s saw the release of some of the most celebrated live rock albums, including Deep Purple's Made In Japan, Humble Pie's Rocking The Filmore and The Allman Brothers Live At The Filmore East. It was also the time of some of the greatest live releases by progressive rock groups. Yes released the triple LP classic Yessongs, ELP put out another triple set, Welcome Back My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends, and Gentle Giant released this recording, culled from several dates on their European tour of 1976. Released in 1977 as a double LP, this single disc CD re-issue is probably the best of the lot. Not too long to lose your focus and interest, but lengthy enough to contain a very good overview of the bands impressive repertoire at that point, it captures Gentle Giant perfectly on stage, and displays quite well their unbelievable musical prowess, and their ability to craft their studio work to the requirements of the concert stage.

Unlike many of their contemporaries in progressive rock, Gentle Giant had a very grounded opinion of the music business and their place within it. They tried their best to please, whether it was their management, or their label, or their rabid fans. The very extensive liner notes in the 16 page booklet that accompanies this release point out that the Giant actually used to perform shows in the USA with a large neon sign hanging behind the group that flashed the word "PRETENTIOUS." Not many 70s progressive outfits had the courage to play with the genres sore scabs and tweak the noses of the styles detractors.

Musically, this release is about as good a testament to what can be accomplished during a live performance as anything you can find. This recording has very little post-production tinkering, a few washed out harmonies and a couple of patches of keyboards were replaced in the studio, but this is pretty close to an unadulterated performance from the Giant. The sound of this live set is a delight, warm and full, with powerful and commanding playing and singing from the five band members. The recreations of the groups trademark a cappella vocals are astounding. There can be no doubt that these musicians were of the absolute highest calibre, capable of pulling off the most difficult works of their repertoire with stunning ease and authority.

All the highlights of a Gentle Giant concert are provided here. These include Kerry Minnear's vibes solo during "Funny Ways", the recorder symphony, and the drum and percussion barrage from "So Sincere." All these are variations from the original versions of these tunes, and this shows another of the Giants great strengths as a live act. They did not stick to rote repetition of their recorded works, often re-arranging, altering and linking their most popular numbers onstage in medleys, as evidenced by this CDs third track, the lengthy "Excerpts From Octopus." This medley contains nearly seventeen minutes of the 1972 masterpiece, heavily compressed and reworked into an epic alternative to the original work. Gary and Ray's brilliant acoustic guitar duet is included and sounds better than the album version. It also includes The "Advent Of Panurge", the previously mentioned "Racontour Troubador", as well as a re-arranged acoustic guitar version of "Acquiring The Taste." The medley is further filled out by the inclusion of "Knots" and "The Boys In The Band", as well as new interludes and instrumental bridges to link all the elements together. The entire medley is so impressive that I now prefer it to hearing Octopus. Indeed, the versions of the bands most well known numbers like "Proclamation", "On Reflection" and "Free Hand" are greatly enhanced by the numerous slight variations and more so by the obvious magic of live performance interplay. The demanding, stop-start, endlessly evolving nature of Gentle Giant's music was made all that more amazing by the fire that the members brought to their performance, and the confidence shown in the delivery of their enormously difficult vocal and instrumental arrangements. Another telling moment included on this live set is the bands off the cuff acoustic rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown." This spirited and extremely tight version of this Dixieland classic was performed during a brief electrical problem onstage at one of the recorded tour dates, and it shows a group of musicians able to perform and function on demand, and in a number of styles and genres. The mastery and ease which is shown by this brief moment tells volumes about the band.

It is hard to sum this up in any other way than to restate all the praise I have already laid at the feet of this release. This is, I will repeat, one of the best of the best of the live recordings of the 1970s. This is a snapshot of a band that had everything a progressive rock fan could ask for, and much more. This is a brilliant collection of songs spanning most of Gentle Giants career to that point. This is a recording that give you much more than a rehashing of some well known numbers, more than a live greatest hits collection. This is an essential addition to any collection of Gentle Giant, and to any balanced collection of 1970s progressive rock music. If you have only heard the studio tracks of the material contained here, you haven't heard the half of it yet.

This re-issue from BGO Records is accompanied by a second disc, the 1980 release Civilian, making this a great deal for the buyer. This is a fairly obvious way for BGO to move some copies of one of the bands most poorly selling titles by attaching it to this "must have" release, and if I can ever get the first live disc off my changer, I can devote some time to listening to, and considering this disc, which I have not yet heard. Look for a separate review of that disc at a later time. Yes, I confess shamefully, I have never heard the Giants final two studio releases. But, I'm working on rectifying this sorry state of affairs, I swear!.

Live (Playing The Fool): (a) Just The Same (6:08) - (b) Proclamation (5:16) / On Reflection (6:20) / Excerpts from Octopus (15:37) / Funny Ways (8:29) / (a) The Runaway (3:55) - (b) Experience (5:34) / So Sincere (10:17) / Free Hand (7:40) / Sweet Georgia Brown (1:15) / (a) Peel The Paint-(b) I Lost My Head (7:35)

Civilian: Convenience (Clean And Easy) (3:14) / All Through The Night (4:20) / Shadows On The Street (3:18) / Number One (4:39) / Underground (3:48) / I Am A Camera (3:33) / Inside Out (5:51) / It's Not Imagination (3:59) / Heroes No More (4:25)

Gary Green ? guitars, mandolin, recorder, vocals
Kerry Minnear ? keyboards, vibes, flute, cello, recorder, vocals
Derek Shulman ? vocals, saxes, recorder, bass
Ray Shulman ? bass, violin, viola, trumpet, recorder, vocals
John Weathers ? drums, percussion, vibes, vocals

Gentle Giant (1970)
Acquiring The Taste (1971)
Three Friends (1972)
Octopus (1973)
In A Glass House (1973)
The Power And The Glory (1974/1990)
Freehand (1975)
Interview (1976)
The Official Live Gentle Giant: Playing The Fool (1977)
Pretentious (1977)
Civilian (1980)
Missing Piece (1977)
Giant For A Day (1978)
In Concert (1994)
The Last Steps (1996)
Out Of The Woods (1996)
Under Construction (1997)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents... (1998)
Out Of The Fire (1998)
Live (Playing The Fool)/Civilian (1999)
Totally Out Of The Woods (2000)
Live In Rome 1974 (2000)
In A Palesport House [live] (2001)
Experience [live] (2002)
Endless Life [live] (2003)
Artistically Cryme [live] (2003)
The Missing Face [live] (2003)
Way Of Life (2004)
Playing The Cleveland [live] (2004)
Prologue (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: April 18th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 1506
Language: english


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