When it comes to live recordings, 1975-1977 is a period very well-documented in the life of Gentle Giant. Besides the "real" live album, Playing the Fool, recorded during the Interview tour, there are numerous "official bootlegs" in circulation. What gives Playing the Cleveland its special flavor is the fact that it was recorded very early in 1975 (January 27, in Cleveland) -- not the Free Hand tour, but the Power and the Glory tour. Sure, it begins like just another similar set list: "Cogs in Cogs," "Proclamation," "Funny Ways," the "Runaway/Experience" medley -- all songs performed at every show during the aforementioned period. "Excerpts from Octopus" is shorter than usual, including only "Knots" and "The Advent of Panurge." Then follows "So Sincere," augmented by the percussion jam that quickly became the visual highlight of the group's show. And there, tucked after the drum bash and unannounced on the sleeve, is a powerful rendition of "Mister Class & Quality" (a song rarely documented live, from the album Three Friends) abridged and segueing right into a show-stopping performance of "Valedictory." Hardcore fans will find that moment alone worth buying this album, despite the shaky sound quality (absolutely listenable, but the master tape has a few flaws) and repetitive set list. The CD is rounded out by two songs from a concert in New York in November of that year. They have little extra merit, although the sound quality is much better, and "The Runaway/Experience" includes a surprising synthesizer cadenza. For casual listeners who only want to own one or two of those official bootlegs, Playing the Cleveland gives you a good and ear-friendly run, all things considered.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture