Exposé Online banner

Gentle Giant — Live at the Bicentennial
(Alucard ALUGG046, 1976/2014, 2CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2014-12-19

Live at the Bicentennial Cover art

Ask any group of Gentle Giant fans which album is the best and you'll get a variety of answers, but I'd bet that 90% or more of them land on something from Octopus (1972) to Interview (1976). So you would get little argument with the statement that this live date from 1976 captures the band at the peak of their career. Of course, even the best band can have an off night, so I'm happy to report that Live at the Bicentennial does not in any way qualify as a bad night. This is a band of prodigious talent making music of extraordinary originality, and even after decades it's still fresh — unlike the outfits they wore on stage. (To be fair, most all rock musicians dressed similarly at the time.) Much of the music on Bicentennial also appeared on Playing the Fool, with three tracks from Interview ("Interview," "Give It Back," and "Timing") added and a few older tunes dropped ("Funny Ways," "Peel the Paint"). The concert staple "Excerpts from Octopus" is more or less the same, and "So Sincere" is similarly extended with a mass percussion section featuring all of the band. A big surprise is "Timing," which is augmented by a lengthy wah-wah violin solo from Ray Shulman (I'm guessing Derek Shulman took over on bass, as the others are accounted for).

What is still astounding about this band is the array of instruments they bring to bear on the arrangements, extending their studio overdubs into a live setting in an effective way. Kerry Minnear's cello and xylophone are great, as is Ray's violin, and the fact they dared to attempt a four-part recorder arrangement in a rock concert — and made it work — sets them apart from any other band. Ever. But in spite of all this complexity and multi-instrumental virtuosity, they never seem to be merely showing off. The compositions are top-notch, and the arrangements serve them admirably. The sense of humor displayed, like "Three Blind Mice" cropping up in a violin solo, tells us they didn't take themselves too seriously. And when they wanted to, they could really rock, albeit in a kind of off-kilter way. Ray's bass in particular is positively fierce, full of grit and fire.

For any Gentle Giant fan, Live at the Bicentennial is absolutely essential, and probably even works well as an introduction to the band. The recording quality is excellent and the performance is unbeatable. This release gets my highest recommendation and stands as the definitive live statement from one of Progressive Rock's true originals.


Filed under: New releases, 2014 releases, 1976 recordings

Related artist(s): Gentle Giant

Latest news

2021-04-01
New Aristocrats Live Album on the Way – No foolin'! These supreme musicians toured Europe early in 2020, just before touring ceased to be a thing musicians could do, and there were some hot performances captured. On May 7, some of these will be releases as Freeze! Live in Europe 2020. » Read more

2021-03-25
Return of Jerry Lucky's Progressive Rock Files – After much consideration and surprisingly, positive feedback, Jerry Lucky is announcing the launch of the progressive Rock Files podcast, featuring the latest progressive rock music from around the world. » Read more

2021-03-14
Jewlia Eisenberg RIP – The sad news has come out that Jewlia Eisenberg has died. As a founding member of Charming Hostess, Eisenberg changed the face of music, bringing together Balkan klezmer, American folk, and experimental rock in a distinctive blend that garnered much praise. » Read more

2021-03-11
RIP Roger Trigaux – The sad news has come to our attention that Roger Trigaux, the guiding force of Present and former member of Univers Zero, passed away on the evening of March 10, 2021 after a long ilness. » Read more

2021-02-14
SoundQuest Fest 2021 – SoundQuest Fest, first experienced as a live festival in Tucson Arizona in 2010 was created by ambient music pioneer Steve Roach. This 2021 event will unite a worldwide gathering of artists and audience members together for a 3-day online event unique in the realm of ambient music. From March 26-28th a continuous flow of streamed performances, audio-video wonder worlds and deep immersion zones will burn bright on Roach’s YouTube channel. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Kit Watkins - Beauty Drifting – This one was a real surprise. Watkins has always had a broad body of work in the electronic realm, but this album is something very different from his last few efforts, ambient or rhythmic. Beauty...  (1996) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues