There were plenty of rock virtuosos in the ’70s, but Gentle Giant was a band apart, as you can hear in this radio broadcast from 1976. Each member was a multi-instrumentalist capable of melodic grace and terrifyingly complex passages.
Gary Green was the main guitarist, but even bassist Ray Shulman, and keyboardist Kerry Minnear played guitar at times, nicely illustrated on “Excerpts from Octopus.” In this suite, you’ll hear an unplugged interlude with Green and Shulman that combines baroque textures with the fast picking of fusion maestros, and that’s on acoustic guitars – not even their main instruments (Shulman was also a terrific violinist).
Unlike many other progressive bands of the era, Gentle Giant didn’t go for extended improvisations, preferring detailed arrangements over loose jamming. “On Reflection” and “Free Hand” continue the veritable freak show of talent, with members jumping between instruments and effortlessly layering vocal harmonies on top of each other.
Stylistically, Green never made any attempt to be a Howe or a Fripp, but then again, most prog guitarists didn’t have to play charts this staggering. On this version of “So Sincere,” for example, Green played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, xylophone – and adds vocals.
That’s a glimpse into the brilliant world of Gentle Giant and, no question, Live at the Bicentennial is a solid document of their life and times. We’ll never see another band like Gentle Giant again.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’15 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.