Prog Rock Digression for a Lazy Saturday

Okay, this is one of those posts you need to skip unless you’re a real 1970s obscure prog rock geek like me. No, seriously, I mean it.  Skip this post. You’ll thank me later. If you ignore this advice, you’ll soon know why. Don’t complain I didn’t warn you. I’ve gone as far as having our tech department block this post from Scott’s IP address, because he’ll be horrified.

One of my Twitter followers (I’m @StevenFHayward, in case you’re not following) alerted me to a whole batch of videos that have been belatedly posted on YouTube of the greatest unappreciated band of the 1970s—Gentle Giant. Actually it is not hard to see why they were unappreciated; as a commenter put it on one of the videos, the first time you heard one of their records you wanted to throw it out. But if you listened a second time, you started to pick up a few things. After four or five listens, you realized what complicated original work this was, even if you never could get quite used to John Weathers’ lead vocals. The band knew this: quite appropriately they called one of their early albums Acquiring the Taste. It was the music listening equivalent of being the first Frenchman who decided to try a cooked snail. Still, their material was miles more complicated than Genesis in its Foxtrot/Nursery Crime phase.

On the other hand, one morning I played a little Gentle Giant on the Bill Bennett show during the 6 am hour of the broadcast as bumper music, and the switchboard lit up with enthusiastic callers. Who knew the Bennett audience included some old prog rock fans.

Last warning—this is your last chance to bail out. Here’s a few for your viewing pleasure/punishment:

The opening of a live show in Germany in 1974, with “Cogs-in-Cogs/Proclamation” (the German audience appears completely bewildered):

And here’s “The Advent of Panurge,” the complicated opening number from the Octopus album, also from Germany, 1974:

Here’s one of their more unusual numbers, “On Reflection,” which features a string instrument prologue, an acapella round, and finishing out with the usual electric mess, from a BBC show in 1978:

Now, for something really different, try a live version of “Funny Ways,” from a show in Long Beach, CA, in 1975—this one takes a long time to get going, but worth it, as it shows how many different instruments (48 by one count) these guys could play:

But maybe they’re starting to get their due after all. I was amazed to find this video of a group of Swedish music students doing a very creditable though slower tempo cover of “Just the Same.”  I especially like the young lady singing the lead.

And here’s a Spanish chorale group doing a cover of one of Giant’s really surreal and inaccessible numbers, “Knots.”  Not sure I would have done this, but whatever.

While Gentle Giant will never get back together (sadly John Weathers is reported to be suffering from MS), Gary Green and Kerry Minnear have formed a small tribute/revival band, “Three Friends” (after a GG album by that title) and tour a little bit. Here’s “His Last Voyage” from a prog rock cruise (where I assume the people attending must use LSD suppositories?):

And finally, here’s Three Friends doing a creditable cover of one of GG’s most complicated tunes, “In a Glass House”:

Okay, mock me if you want, but have you got a better waste of a Saturday?

Responses