Saturday, April 1, 2017

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2000 - The Box

Van Der Graaf Generator
2000
The Box


Bless The Baby Born Today
101. People You Were Going To (3:32)
102. Afterwards (4:45)
103. Necromancer (4:11)
104. Refugees (6:19)
105. Darkness (6:52)
106. After the Flood (10:59)
107. White Hammer (8:16)
108. House With No Door (6:33)
109. Killer (8:20)
110. Lost (11:09)

The Tower Reels
201. Theme 1 (3:01)
202. W (4:28)
203. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:06)
204. (In the) Black Room/The Tower (11:47)
205. Lemmings (16:42)
206. Man-Erg (11:09)

One More Heaven Gained
301. La Rossa (9:51)
302. Arrow (8:53)
303. Still Life (7:26)
304. My Room (7:29)
305. Sleepwalkers (10:26)
306. Pilgrims (7:11)
307. Childlike Faith in Childhood's End (12:25)
308. Scorched Earth (10:13)

Like Something Out Of Edgar Allen Poe
401. Masks (7:00)
402. Meurglys III (16:47)
403. When She Comes (8:02)
404. Wondering (6:42)
405. The Wave (3:15)
406. Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running) (4:49)
407. Chemical World (6:14)
408. Door (3:26)
409. Sci-Finance (6:16)
410. The Sphinx in the Face (5:33)


- Guy Evans / drums, percussion, baliphones
- Hugh Banton / keyboards, drum programmes
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes, keyboards
- Peter Hammill / vocals, piano
- Chas Dickie / cello
- Keith Ellis / bass and background vocals
- Nick Potter / bass


I am a fan of box sets, having acquired over the years box sets of many artists including King Crimson, Yes and Pink Floyd, however I was not sure whether a high price tag would be justified for a set of Van der Graaf Generator CDs. This set known iconically as "The Box", consists of many of the tracks already available on their studio albums and, as I already have all these albums, I was hesitant to buy. However it has been a long time since a VDGG purchase and there were enough live and alternative versions of tracks to peak my interest.
CD1 is a collection of the early years of the band who need no introduction. Some unusual live versions from a BBC Top Gear session recorded in November 1968, starts off this wonderful compilation. The live tracks were new to me, including upbeat 'People You Were Going To', slow wondering 'Afterwards', and the drum-heavy 'Necromancer' that is even better than the version on the debut thanks to the staccato organ hammering. There is also a live track from BBC Peel Session recorded in December 1971, 'Refugees'. Fascinating compositions 'Darkness (11/11)', with some scintillating sax, and acoustic and organ-driven powerhouse 'After The Flood' are from BBC Top Gear January 1970, and all are agreeable versions; raw, low-fi and intense, but almost as good as the originals despite the hissing radio production. The CD does include some original studio tracks, the dark dynamic 'White Hammer' from "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other", and from "H To He Who Am The Only One" the pensive reflections of 'House With No Door', 'Killer' and 'Lost'. 'Killer' is definitely indispensable and had to be included, but in place of some of the other tracks here perhaps 'Gog' or 'Octopus' would have been a better choice. In any case, it is a solid start showcasing the pioneering years of the band.

CD2 has some unusual choices, as the band became prog legends during the 70s, such as BBC Black Sessions recording from June 1971 of the exuberant catchy 'Theme One' and for some strange reason the B-side of this single, the plodding 'W' is here, not a great song but I like the weird instrumental break. Quintessential VDGG is present with the extraordinary prog epic from "Pawn Hearts", 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers', all 23 glorious minutes of it. I cannot offer enough superlatives about this atmospheric beast, needless to say it is a masterpiece not to be missed. Then three live tracks recorded in Rimini 1975, the hypnotic raucous '(In The) Black Room/The Tower', the bludgeoning 16 minute 'Lemmings' and reflective odyssey 'Man-Erg', the latter two that are brilliant studio releases but still hold some power on the stage, and have some killer passages of mind blowing music that light up with a detonation of sax, organ, bass and drums. The live songs are bootleg quality but are nevertheless prime examples of the band exploring dynamics and jaw dropping freakouts of improvisation, and as such are well worth a listen. Overall, a great CD, especially for those who do not own "Pawn Hearts".

CD3 features familiar VDGG material from the excellent "Still Life", such as 'La Rossa', the title track, 'Pilgrims', and 'Childlike Faith In Childhood's End', which are great but the edited version of 'My Room' is nothing worth pursuing. There is also an edit of 'Arrow' from "Godbluff" that ruined the original, fading up during the instrumental, but it was nice to hear 'Sleepwalkers' both from the wonderful "Godbluff". From the Rimni 1975 concert is the intense masterwork 'Scorched Earth', and it still sounds as powerful as the original. A decent CD but with some unfortunate cruel edits marring the work of the band. VDGG should never be edited no matter what, but this is what happens on box sets when producers try to cram as much as they can into the CDs, the same applied for King Crimsons box sets "21st Century Guide to King Crimson", and the edits are seldom welcome.

CD4 encompasses the poorest era of the band and features the best of "World Record", 'Masks', 'When She Comes', 'Wondering' and an edit of the epic 'Muerglys III' that never did impress me in it's lengthy form either. That takes care of VDGG's worst album and then we move onto "Quiet Zone" with 'The Wave', and 'Chemical World' which are not too bad, though 'Cat's Eye/ Yellow Fever' is the best track on that album. This track is featured however as a live track from a 1974 BBC Peel Session, and it is quite appealing with violent violin serrations, deep bass and Hammill's anguished vocals. 'Door' is also here from Virgin Vault in 1977, and it is as good as the version that appears as a bonus track elsewhere. From the great live "Vital" album the choice is 'Sci-Finance' and the compilation concludes dramatically with 'The Sphinx In The Face' from BBC Peel Session 1977.

The booklet is always a drawcard in these boxsets, where we learn about the making of albums, the lineup changes, the highs and lows of being involved with a strange eclectic prog band, scattered with interesting pictures, cuttings, headlines and information. The box is sturdy and looks great on the shelf, so if you are into the band this is certainly a worthy addition. On the other hand for those who only have one or two VDGG albums, I fully recommend this set as it features such a wide range of material, with some incredible live performances such as 'Lemmigs'. There is enough here to appreciate even if you have all the albums but even with the double ups of tracks, it is a good evening's listen culminating in a 5 hour marathon of the brilliant bizarre progenitors of prog, the almighty Van der Graaf Generator.

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