Monday, April 03, 2006

Peter Hammill (with Stuart Gordon)—Veracious
Peter Hammill has been generous with the live releases over the last few decades, starting in the mid-'80s with The Margin, a double set with the hard-rocking, short-lived K Group. Roomtemperaturelive followed in 1990, a lengthy document of his amazing North American tour with bassist Nic Potter and Stuart Gordon on violin—a bit of a cherished artifact personally, as this tour was the only time I’ve seen PH in the flesh. There Goes the Daylight appeared in 1993, another rock band recording reminiscent of the K Group sound. PH didn’t release a truly “solo” live album until 1999’s Typical (recorded on tour in 1992). As you might guess, the different collaborators and instrumentation result in Hammill exploring different facets of his music on various tours—reviving old songs, reworking the staples of the set, and generally mutating material away from its studio album staidness—which makes bootlegs a fairly valued commodity among the tape and CD-R traders in his fanbase. I think it’s Hammill’s “beat the boots” philosophy that’s resulted in the regular stream of live albums on his own Fie! label.

So here we have Veracious, one disc's worth of the gracefully aging Hammill performing at various European venues with Stuart Gordon sawing away alongside. The dozen songs are all drawn from his ’90s and ’00s albums except “Easy to Slip Away,” an ode to departed friends from his wrenching second solo album Chameleon in the Shadow of Night, and “Shingle Song,” a rarely performed ballad from 1975’s proto-punk concept LP Nadir’s Big Chance. “A Better Time” is a strong opener. PH hammers out a steady tempo on piano and SG follows suit, lacking the panic to fill musical space I often sense when I hear him play, all supporting the hopeful message of the song: “I’ll never find a better time to be alive than now.” The more delicate “Gone Ahead” and “Nothing Comes” are solid performances as well. Both songs depend on central hook melodies that Hammill, a performer who willfully abandons himself to the moment, is careful not to lose. As the album progresses, other songs aren’t treated so appropriately. Either they’re recorded inconsistently (“Like Veronica” sounds distant and boomy), or their arrangements abstract them almost beyond recognition and enjoyment. “Primo on the Parapet,” which received a majestic, hard-driving treatment by the band on There Goes the Daylight, suffers most from the sparse duo format. Another victim is “Shingle Song.” Hammill starts it a cappella, with guitar and violin gradually joining in. It’s here that Gordon’s onomatopeic playing becomes a nuisance. Nearly every lyric receives some kind of flourish in reply, and the effect becomes cheesy. For example, immediately after the line “Against the caterwaul of scattered call winds,” Gordon zings and zooms and whistles away as though caught in the breeze himself.

I can’t say Veracious features any definitive versions of these songs, but for fans it’s a decent document of PH’s recent activities, and serves to jog the memory regarding the finer tunes from his recent solo it did for me.

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