Caravan

A Knight in London

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Caravan: A Night in London showcases the veteran Canterbury-spawned progressive rock outfit playing before a sell-out audience at the London Astoria, at an undated 2003 show that marked the return to their lineup of keyboard player Jan Schelhaas, after a 28-year absence. This DVD is a good way for the uninitiated to discover the group, as it showcases their most accessible work, including the McCartney-esque "All the Way" and harder sounds such as "A Very Smelly Grubby Little Oik," on which guitarists Pye Hastings and Doug Boyle get to pull out a few stops, with some rippling lead lines pouring from Boyle's instrument, and drummer Richard Coughlan plays like he's got an extra arm or two (aided and abetted by percussionist Simon Bentall on the congas). One of the reasons this band has survived and even flourished over the last 35 years is that they've never let their musicianship run their music -- that is, they've always been pretty circumspect about what's worth performing (or recording), versus what can be performed; they've never gotten so far ahead of their audience as to lose them, or let their virtuosity prevent their reaching out to the unconverted with an accessible, pleasing lick or riff; a number like "Liar" from The Battle of Hastings is catchy and inviting, even if you've never heard the record; they also come off as very elegant on "A Hunting We Shall Go," one of several true vintage pieces that they play in this set, switching gears effortlessly to the pounding, soaring "For Richard." Hastings' vocals are a bit more ragged than they were three decades ago, but he holds up well with some backup from bassist Jim Leverton -- what's more, as revealed here for the sharp-eyed (thanks to the very clever editor of the concert film), their sound relies just as much on the interlocked playing of violist Geoff Richardson and lead guitarist Boyle as between Boyle's and Hastings' guitars. As Hastings remarks, the members are expected to improvise heavily on their performances, so that no two nights' shows are alike -- the 94-minute performance is broken up by very short interview segments with the members in three spots on the disc, which don't break up the rhythm of the show at all. The performance was captured in what looks like high-definition, letterboxed at 1.85-to-1, and the sound is captured loud and close in 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Stereo, with excellent balances. The camera angles are excellent and the editing is smooth and spot on. The only real complaint is the design of the menu, which opens automatically on start-up; designed like a medieval tapestry, complete with the group's logo, it offers the option of "play" and "track list," but the latter is virtually unreadable because of the small print.