LA Free Press article by Laurie Bereskin
By Laurie Bereskin. This article and review appeared in the LA Free Press, April 1977.
Over the past seven years England's progressive rockers, Gentle Giant, have amassed a large cult following throughout America, Canada, Britain and Europe. Certainly one of the more innovative progressive bands of the '70s, Giant combines classical and jazz influences, elaborate vocal arrangements, sophisticated lyrics and complex song structures with rocky bursts of electric energy. Collectively, the group plays cello, violin, trumpet, sax, recorders, vibes and all keyboards in addition, of course, to the standard rock instruments. Nevertheless, the band members modestly contend that they are just another rock outfit.
Giant, in town for last Thursday's Shrine date, was founded by Derek and Ray Shulman, both with classical/jazz backgrounds. The brothers immediately recruited keyboardist and cellist Kerry Minnear, a graduate of London's Royal College of Music. The group's guitarist, Gary Green, formerly played with jazz and blues oriented bands. Drummer John Weathers was finally selected for his basic hard rock approach.
With their tenth LP just released, Playing The Fool (Capitol), the band has already begun to work on another album which will be recorded later this year in Holland. Weathers says, "It's a cross section, both instrumentally and in the lyric writing department as well.
Minnear adds, "The album's working title is The Missing Piece, and you can expect it out in the stores some time in September.
On last year's American jaunt, Gentle Giant chose to skip headlining at the Shrine in favor of opening the Yes/Peter Frampton summer gig at Anaheim Stadium. Even though Giant had to ditch their multi-media stage show, which includes clever use of slides and movies, and their set was cut from it's customary hour and 50 minutes to a mere 40 minutes, the band felt the sacrifices were worth it. "Anaheim was an experience, an event rather than a concert. It doesn't seem to matter how you play. It's just the vibe of the whole thing. Just taking in the scene of a sold-out baseball stadium and playing music at the same time was incredible," said Minnear.
Another L.A. performance, a Hollywood Bowl stint in 1972, was a disaster. Minnear explains: "We went into the Hollywood Bowl supporting. Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath were topping the bill. Although we got off to a good start, the audience was clearly not into our kind of music. That became apparent when a fire cracker landed among us. Before that they had been throwing beer cans and stuff on stage." One cherry bomb and an exchange of insults later, Giant walked off the stage.
"The press treated us very well," said Minnear, "they were very sorry for us because they realized what we were up against - a crowd that was waiting for Black Sabbath. At least Iron Butterfly's music was more attuned to Black Sabbath's style. But our music was at the opposite end of the spectrum. We were a bit abstract in our early days and we never should have been on that bill."
According to Minnear and Weathers, all of Gentle Giant's L.A. shows since the 'Bowl fiasco have been complete successes. "One of the best Los Angeles engagements we ever did was a five night stint at the Whisky. It was the first time we had come into town after the Bowl gig. It was two years later and obviously we thought we were starting from scratch, not because of the two year absence but because the Bowl concert had been so awful. We didn't want to do the club but our manager said he thought it would be a good idea and he was absolutely right. The lines went way around the block every night."
Now, five years later, looking back on their latest American tour, Minnear and Weathers are extremely pleased with everything in general. Minnear grinned and said, "This tour came off very well. We have always liked touring, which we do about five and a half months a year. In fact, we don't like having too many days off on tour, I mean look what happened to us in Florida. We had four days off in Miami and we all lost the tops of our skins as punishment for lazing in the sun. We are all anxious to get back home, however, and start production on the new album."
GENTLE GIANT PUT on a slick, fast-paced two hour performance of invigorating progressive rock last Thursday night at the Shrine. Known for their fine multi-media stage show embellishments, the band once again utilized a slide show designed to compliment the tempos and lyric content of various numbers.
In the studio, Gentle Giant has produced sophisticated albums like In A Glass House, Octopus, and Free Hand, all of which feature layered harmonies and intricate progressive rock patterns. Fortunately, the quintet reproduced their complex vocal and instrumental arrangements on stage.
Gentle Giant's music is delivered with a sharp rock'n'roll punch. There are short and snappy improvised jams in the middle of all the show's numbers. As a result, the group sounds much more raw and informal than they do on vinyl, where their playing is tightly structured around a particular melodic theme.
As always, Giant's instrumental dexterity is astounding, with the band members playing musical chairs with the instruments on stage. When Ray Shulman takes up the violin, he passes his bass to brother Derek. During one particular number, Derek Shulman drops his role of lead vocalist for a short stint on saxophone. Not to be out-done, Ray plays trumpet in the middle of another song. Kerry Minnear steps out from behind his elaborate keyboard set up for a wild solo on xylophone and later he ditches the vibes in favor of cello.
Although each piece was brilliantly executed, there was a show stopper. "On Reflection", from their seventh album, Free Hand, turned out to be the concert highlight. This six-minute composition features the best vocal arrangement since Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". However, Queen never performs the operatic section from their outrageous number live; instead they use a tape. In comparison, Gentle Giant settles for no disappointing half way measures. Each band member came to the front of the stage and, singing a cappella, they produced an intricate round which demanded absolute concentration on their parts. They managed to pull the number off without any hitches.
The only problem with the show, other than a few sound distortions, was in utilizing Excerpts From Octopus for an encore. Nearly 20 minutes of condensed LP selections, the medley should have been performed 'midway through the concert.
Opening act Renaissance played a rather punchless set of watered down progressive rock. But lead singer Annie Haslam holds forth with a soaring soprano that floats high above the band's delicate instrumentals. Rarely off pitch, Haslam is the best thing Renaissance had going for them at the moment.