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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Gentle Giant

Live at the Bicentennial 1776-1976

Review by Gary Hill

This new Gentle Giant recording was available before as an inferior bootleg. That version was missing some of the stuff found here, and the sound was nowhere near as good as this. The performance here is quite good. I’ve always loved the unusual vocal phrasings and vocal arrangements of Gentle Giant. I think it’s what set them apart from the bulk of prog acts. That really shines through well in this show. The sound quality is good, but not up to modern standards. Still, live recordings in those days never sounded as good as they can now. So, for the era, this is solid. It’s a great concert and well worth having.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD 1
Intro/Just the Same

The intro here is just some space type music. They take us out into a bouncy kind of energetic progressive rock jam from there. That turns to more symphonic prog. It starts to resemble Emerson, Lake and Palmer quite a bit. Then it drops to finger snapping and piano comes in to bring it into rather jazz like territory. They launch out into fast paced prog from there. Various shifts and changes emerge as this continues. A lot of this is jazzy, but they take it into other things, too. There are some pretty crazed instrumental sections built into this beast.

Proclamation/Valedictory
There’s a section of stage talk along with the introduction of the next song. This is short and strictly spoken.
On Reflection

Coming in quite classical, this also resembles folk prog at the start. That holds the piece for a time, evolving as it does. Then a real chorus of vocals takes over. At first, it’s without backing. Then some Zappa-like music is heard behind the voices for a time. Still, that drops away soon and the vocals remain. Then we get a guitar based progressive rock instrumental movement (sans vocals) from there. Some vocals eventually return right at the end.

Interview
This starts with a spoken interlude of a bad interviewer. Coming in with some killer progressive rock, this has a great groove to it. That section holds the cut through the first vocals. Then they shift and change things, moving into more mellow territory and through some jazzy music. From there it works back into the previous section for the next vocals. This is quite a powerhouse, really. After a time we’re taken out into more of Frank Zappa meets jazz kind of arrangement. It feels a bit freeform as it builds. We’re brought back out into the more mainstream progressive rock jam for the closing.
The Runaway/Experience
The sound of glass breaking leads this off, getting quite intense in its banging, percussive rhythm. As the main progressive rock stylings kick into gear, this is a fast paced and quirky jam, shifting this way and that. It literally seems to pull back and forth in both directions. They take this through several changes as it continues. Then it drops way down for a mellow reprieve before gradually building back out. A tastefully off-kilter jam takes it for a while. Eventually it drops back to mostly just the rhythm section for there. Then, they fire back out into frantic progressive rock jamming from there. More changes emerge as this continues. Some of the guitar soloing later almost has a Southern rock, jam band kind of feeling to it.
So Sincere
The vocal line on this has a this way and that kind of melody. It’s kind of a Gentle Giant trademark, but it’s more pronounced here. The early sections of this are almost folk meets classical in terms of the music. As it continues, though, it works out to frantic progressive rock and some fusion. There is even some funk in a jam later in the piece.  There’s an extended drum solo built into this beast, too. After the drum solo, we get some tuned percussion in the form of bells or chimes, too. Some sleigh bells are heard. Then the drums come back in amidst that. The drumming gets pretty intense and involved as it moves forward. Some tribal like percussion joins at one point and the drumming takes it out.
CD 2
Excerpts from Octopus
Coming in frantic, this shifts and turns. It’s fast paced, crazed prog, a bit like Frank Zappa at times. There is definitely some fusion and more built into this, too. After a time we’re deposited into some folk prog, but that gets alternated with more music that’s fusion-like. There are some minor hints of something like Jethro Tull in this. Then we’re taken to an acoustic guitar solo that’s fast, but also folk-like. A full band prog jam ensues. Then it drops away and we get a multi-layered vocal only part. That gets alternated with some weird, nearly Rock in Opposition like music. The music changes after each vocal segment, but it’s still quirky prog and the pattern remains. A keyboard solo moves it out of that section. From there we’re taken into more band oriented prog, but other than short bursts the vocals dominate. Nearing the eleven minute mark, though, were taken into a smoking hot instrumental section that combines jam band sounds and fusion. A hard rocking, riff driven jam serves as the backdrop for the next vocal section. They drop it way down from there and begin to gradually work out from that point. Flute dominates the next instrumental section, begging comparisons to Tull. The bass in that section has a great sound, too. After another vocal movement, a killer fusion jam takes it for a time. It’s one of my favorite passages of the whole set. One more vocal movement ends the piece. The band gets introduced after this song.
Give It Back

This is quite a complex song. Yet, it manages to groove. It works through reggae inspired prog, jazz based music and more. There is a cool rhythmic element here and the whole piece just works so well.

Timing
A powerhouse progressive rock jam, this is a bit more immediately mainstream than some of the rest. Don’t mistake that for it being straightforward, though. There are plenty of twists, turns and surprises here. It’s got some jazzier moments, too. There are some bits on this that make me think of Zappa just a bit, as well. That’s particularly true of some of the odder little bits. The violin solo in the middle of this is a little noisy, quite odd, and still compelling. It almost takes on “fiddle” like elements. That solo section does go on a little long for my tastes. Still, the crowd seems to like it. It works out to a bit of “Three Blind Mice” for a time. That eventually takes the cut to the close.
Freehand
Awesome, almost mysterious, progressive rock opens this and the piece grows out in style from there. It shifts toward fusion before the one minute mark. The vocals come in over that, and we’re off. What a ride it is, too. We get vocal segments that are dramatic themselves. It gets more adventurous instrumental sections that really escalate this thing. It’s killer progressive rock that works toward jazz and a lot more. There is a drum solo near the end, but it’s nowhere near as extensive as the earlier one.
 
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