Van der Graaf Generator went through a number of lineups in its eventful life, most of which went by undocumented as live units, at least officially (and even on the bootleg front, VDGG fans have few quality recordings to fall back on). There has been one official live album, Vital, but, as necessary as it was in chronicling the group's transformation into a ferocious stage beast, it features a short-lived incarnation of the band. All in all, what is largely considered the "classic quartet" lineup was never decently recorded on-stage, and would never be. At least, that was the story up until May 6, 2005, when Hugh Banton, David Jackson, Guy Evans and Peter Hammill walked on-stage together for the first time in almost 30 years. Recently re-formed, VDGG had released a new studio album (the more-than-decent Present) and a European tour had been booked. The quartet would get better, meaner and wilder with every show (as bootlegs testify), but the one show that mattered, the one that had to be recorded for posterity (righting the aforementioned wrong in the process) was that historical first reunion at London's Royal Festival Hall, in front of a sold-out and very international house. Nostalgia was in the air, of course, and it soon became clear that this first reunion tour would be about giving old neglected fans what they wanted and letting younger unsuspecting fans catch up with VDGG as a live force. The set list almost picks up where this particular lineup had left off in early 1977, with the exception of two tracks off Present, here given the typical VDGG live treatment: louder, heavier, grittier. The concert opens with the first two pieces off the group's magnum opus Godbluff, performed with lots of gusto. If "Refugees" suffers from Hammill's less-than-delicate vocals, several other songs are rightfully treated, including "Darkness," "Childlike Faith in Childhood's End," "Lemmings" (with improvised introduction), and probably the definitive live version of "(In The) Black Room," a song written for and first performed by VDGG, even though it ended up on one of Hammill's solo records. After the encore, "Killer," has burned the house down, the guys come back for a second encore, a lovely rendition of "Wondering," which not only seems to question the reality of the whole experience ("Wondering if it's all been true"), but brings the concert full circle as Jackson concludes with a single repeated flute note, just like the beginning of "The Undercover Man" played a little over two hours earlier. Yes, this is nostalgia, but unlike most reunion shows, this one features four men still in full possession of their talent and eager to push onward. Real Time (so titled because nothing has been edited out or added) is a must for the fan and, with such a stellar cross-section of material, an excellent starting place for the newcomer.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture