Review Summary: Gentle Giant were and still are one of the most skillfull prog band in the whole progressive rock story. Their music is so majestic it never gets old.
Gentle Giant was a prolific british prog band troughout the seventies. They have crafted one of the most electic, innovative and adventurous kind of progressive rock music of all time. Strongly influenced by Baroque, Medieval and Renaissance era, they are equally melodic and complex, explorating plenty of odd time signatures. The band was particularly flexible due to the exceptionally broad musical skills of it members. Accomplished multi-instrumentalists, they also have a solid classic formation. From the start they were determined to strive beyond existing stagnant music. Frontman Derek Shulman one time stated : ..''From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts on blatant commercialism.. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling
Gentle Giant's music was considered complex even by progressive rock standards. At first glance the band might seem musically pretentious, but they were trying to impress themselves rather than impress anyone else. They increased the usual rock instruments with cello, horns, mallet percussions, Moog, trumpets, flutes, vibes, etc. In doing so they had more rooms to enhanced their clever orchestrations. The way they use intricate time signatures, detailed vocal harmonies and counterpoint (polyphony) leave their audience totally amazed. Gentle Giant music is generously imbued with subtlety and depth and is filled with numerous memorable melodies. They never fail to impress. Even their weak songs have something to offer. Giant is tall. And they rule hard 'live'. 'PLAYING THE FOOL' gives you good impression pretty fast. This is the perfect way to get into the band. Try to be open mind for a start, and give several spins to it, otherwise you're gonna miss an eargasmic journey into a world of sensory pleasure.
'PLAYING THE FOOL' is Gentle Giant on top of their game. Both performance and set list are superb. Frontman Derek Shulman is convincing from the start. Deploying an impressive high pitch capacity, he also fluently delivers emotions. He also plays saxophone. John Weathers is a highly technical, inspired drummer who knows how to alternate between a classic symphonic prog feel and a more heavy groove when needed. By doing so, Gentle Giant music sounds much more 'accessible'. I saw Giant on a DVD concert called 'GIANT ON THE BOX'. Weathers is very funny to look at. He's a very humoristic guy. The way he moves, his grimaces when he plays drums. He also doesn't hesitate to take the micro and thus to entertain and feel the pulse of the crowd. He also plays some vibes. Gary Green is a very talented guitarist. He managed to create inventive riffs and solos. He brillantly alternates between powerful and atmospheric climaxes. He also plays acoustic guitar especially to execute some duet string guitars escapes with Ray Shulman. Being energetic like his fellows, he was made to perform on stage.
Keyboardist Kerry Minnear is truly a key man within Gentle Giant. He plays all keys, cello, moog and vibes. Like his fellas he does vocals and percussions. He've penned a bunch of songs as well. Bassist Ray Shulman did most of Gentle Giant compos and arrangements. Virtuose, he plays masterfully bass, violins and trumpet. In 'GIANT ON THE BOX' DVD, it's funny to look at the frontman's charisma. He theatrically used to imit a chef d'orchestre while music is going on. On that way he manages to entertain and seduce the audience with his keen sense of animation. He owns a powerful, multi-range vocal! Gentle Giant have always been faithful and generous to their public, even if their first audiences were rather cold and non receptive with their 'hard to digest' type of music. But once you 'get' it, be prepared to have so many songs stucked in your head, and so you will run to get the rest of their discography.
'JUST THE SAME', is the perfect opener for 'Playing The Fool'. It's the catchy/intricate opener for album 'Free Hand', and it's played with conviction, more colossal on here, with the hard rockish approach of drummer Weathers. 'PROCLAMATION' has great counterpoint, seductive melody and stunning vocal harmonies. It's impressive the way Gentle Giant can replicated live their studio works. And if ever they can't do so, the drummer brings rock and roll feel with a solid drum kick to compensate. 'ON REFLECTION' offers an inventive harmony of flutes, vibes, cello and violins followed by one of their best vocal harmonies ever, on par with the one performed in 'KNOTS'. Then the gorgeous closing part took the floor with an happy medieval landscape. You could easily figure out some Elfins dancing on it. song flows into 'EXCERPTS FROM OCTOPUS', a gorgeous display of 'OCTOPUS revisited'. It starts off powerfully with intro of 'THE BOYS IN THE BAND' While 'THE ADVENT Of PANURGE' is different but equally gorgeous than the studio version, it contains an extended harmonic flute solo jam. And in between we go through a generous acoustic medley of some 'OCTOPUS' gems. Next is 'KNOTS' wich offers the most elaborated vocal harmony ever. Then we got their famous classic guitar duet, courtesy of Ray Shulman and Gary Green. Next is the emotional 'FUNNY WAYS', a fan favourite from their debut album. Version is still more intense on here. Ray Shulman shows off talent on violin, while Minnear goes into a great vibrophone solo. 'THE RUNAWAY' is the opener of album 'IN A GLASS HOUSE'. The song has the same glass breaking sample found on the original version. The crowd welcomed the song with praise. Both live and studio versions are nearly identicals, and it's all right. 'EXPERIENCE' is arguably one of the best song ever written by the band. It's one of their most intricate and seductive ones. John Weathers shines on here. When the drum's coming we got an efficient upbeat that brings straightness to an upcoming insane polyphony play. Then after we got a beautiful instrumental bridge announcing the gorgeous ending of the song. This is good to sing along to and once again, one can figure out some Elfins dancing on it. A groovy and melodic mid tempo takes it over on second part, and music gets audacious, as per usual.
'SO SINCERE' is among the most complex of their catalog with its brillant time signatures. Listen to the the bass drum kicking and take note that Weathers had only one bass drum pedal. 'SO SINCERE' outshines all band members. Right after its audacious jam we got a stunning drum solo. Then it calms down to introduce a tremendous vibrophone bridge wich sets the table for their 'Drum and percussion bash', performed by the whole band all together, and this event is a trademark of theirs since their Power And Glory tour, in 1974. 'FREE HAND' is a great song, but if anything, it would be better with no vocals. The song was already charged enough musically. Bassline is sublime especially in intrumental moments. The song offers aditional soloing opportunities for the guitarist, of wich he takes excellent advantage. After a short and funny musical interlude (courtesy of Ray Shulman on violin), the table is set for an electric finale. Guitarist Gary Green really shines and he rocks all through the highly melodic, yet 'heavy prog' medley 'PEEL THE PAINT / I LOST MY HEAD'. Derek sings with an obvious enthusiasm. A perfect closer for a perfect album.! Lets join elfins and dance to this lovely lively music. It's impressive the way Gentle Giant can replicated live their studio works. And if ever they can't do so, the drummer brings rock and roll feel with a solid drum kick to compensate. The paradox of Gentle giant lies in their cleverness to be catchy while remaining complex.
Gentle Giant never ceased to impress me, except after 'INTERVIEW' album. Too bad their last three albums were more 'pop' oriented and have clearly shown signs weakness as the Dark Age of prog was pointing at the horison. But overall Gentle Giant had proudly let their mark in progressive rock. Until now their musical level has rarely been equalled. Good luck to you all musicians wanting to cover some 'Giant properly. Gentle Giant are an acquired taste, very original and are specially recommended to proggers searching for adventurous, challenging, melodic and yet majestic music.