Van Der Graaf Generator
The Bath Forum
ESOTERIC ANTENNA/CHERRY RED
Though born into a pre-punk Manchester in the post-psych-rock era, no British art-prog act had the aggression, balls, or experimental chops to inspire, roust, or rile young punks as did Van Der Graaf Generator. A lurching, abstract, electronic-based ensemble led by warblingly dramatic vocalist and menacingly existential lyricist Peter Hammill, kinetic drummer Guy Evans, and instrumentalist Hugh Banton, VDGG has continued making studio albums (all the way up to 2016’s Do Not Disturb) as a group, coinciding with Hammill’s solo career of noisier, but often sparer-produced recordings.
Though not as well-known as their art-prog brethren, only King Crimson rivals Hammill and company for bugged-out, manic, hypnotic intensity and theatrical terrorism. And like Crimson, this ensemble is at their most ferocious in longform live concert settings. Holed up in Bath, England’s Forum for an extended period of 2022, this four-album (and one Blu-ray) set collects latter-day VDGG moments (a radically dystopian “Every Bloody Emperor,” a greasy and mean “Go”), as well as eerily clever and operatic tracks from Hammill’s solo oeuvre (“A Louse Is Not a Home”), and some of the band’s classics such as the mad, wrenching “La Rossa” and the panicky free jazz of “Over the Hill.”
Nothing within the four Bath Forum albums is for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to Hammill’s actorly vocals—a tic- and growl-filed roller coaster ride of post-Bowie-isms, yet still so unlike every other singer on the planet.