The Last Steps review by Dan Barrett
- From 1996
Civilian is perhaps the album that most divides Gentle Giant's fans into two camps. Some consider Civilian to symbolize all that was wrong with Gentle Giant's forays into popular styles, but others think it's a successful rock album with subtle complexity. The Last Steps is a live album featuring Gentle Giant at the end of their career, performing their later material in concert. It's a chance to hear GG at their most rocking, blasting out loud and raucous renditions of Convenience, All Through The Night, and others.
As a historical document, The Last Steps succeeds in capturing part of GG's career never before released as a legitimate (non-bootleg) recording. The recording quality is no better than you'd expect from a typical bootleg, however, despite the impressive-sounding claims of "20 bit digital mastering" in the liner notes. The vocals become distorted at numerous points; and on occasion, such as the acoustic guitar parts of Memories Of Old Days, the background hiss is nearly as loud as the guitars.
Despite the grainy sound quality, the highlight of the album for me was definitely Knots, played in a powerful, throbbing style unlike any other recording I'd heard of the piece. Giant For A Day is also interesting because the keyboards are more prominent than on the original, and John Weathers bashes the hell out of his drums while playing the simple beat. The low point of the album is Derek's singing. As the concert continues, his voice becomes progressively more strained and off-key, and even at the beginning he is clearly hurting on the high notes. Poor guy!
The CD packaging is disappointing but adequate. The cover is nothing more than the legs from Giant Steps... The First Five Years cut and pasted a dozen times on a background of open sky. I could have thrown it together myself in 10 minutes with a scanner and graphics software. The liner notes by Christopher Hoard are heartfelt and full of praise, but in my opinion, a bit overbearing in this context. I mean, I love Gentle Giant too, but it's hard to take seriously that Derek has "one of rock's most gifted set of vocal chords" when this CD represents his worst vocal performance ever released. (Perhaps Christopher hadn't heard the album in advance of writing the notes.) The second essay by David Armas is more calm, introspective, and satisfying. Rounding out the package are four photographs of the band, none of which I'd seen before.
Overall, this is a fan's only legal opportunity to hear Gentle Giant's later material recorded live, as well as a uniquely satisfying arrangement of Knots. The recording quality is inferior to all other official GG releases, but diehard fans will likely overlook this.
Dan's ratings (out of 5 points):
Recording quality: 2 (average bootleg) Performance: 3 Historical value: 5 Overall: 3
The Vendor Responds
Rob Corich of Red Steel sent me a nice email message after reading the review, in which he said that "20 bit re-mastering was used to the extreme ..but the original (sound board) tapes were never of the highest quality. 20 bit processing can only go so far on limited sound quality! You should have heard it before ..it was virtually unusable for CD release."