Montréal, October 9th 1976
It's raining like a dog, really cold, and in the Centre Paul-Sauvé there are these arrogant, smart alec cops parading around yelling orders at the crowd. The venue is pathetic, freezing, and it's got 2,400 freaks who look like they are expecting a really great show. They've read in Pop-Rock that this show will be "visually interesting, very theatrical", but they'll be disappointed. The idiots who leave the house lights on don't help.
People don't go to a show just to experience something, people like that are only going to come away with something artificial and superficial, VdGG are not offering much that's easy. I wonder if the crowd gets that. Maybe. The performance is not easy to listen to, for long periods Hammill's voice and his words are drowned out by the magma of exploding sounds, and then the electric piano completely breaks down and Hammill cries out in the middle of "Arrow":
"It's dead! It's absolutely dead!"
No "Man Erg" then, because the piano has had it, but the evening is still a great success. Jackson is attention-grabbing, Guy Evans is daring and technically impressive, and the hopeless acoustics actually add to the delirium and angst-ridden apocalypse taking place on stage; it's all part of the curse that seems to follow these alchemists of sound. The crowd add its own fireworks to the event. At the end of the show, the band surprise us with two from the past: "Killer" and "Darkness" off of the first albums. Amazing!
Later on, backstage, there's a lot of folks, including at one point most of the members of Lucibel, an underground band from Québec who are a sort of distant VdGG alter-ego and with whom David Jackson has been getting on really well.
Trois-Rivières, October 10th 1976
A dull beginning. Oasis, a cacophonic group from Ottawa; they're cute and rather like Caravan, not bad but not great either.
VdGG are out and out majestic, they have never played better and each of them is a virtuoso, a unique talent, and they are so tight together. I'm hypnotised by Peter, he fascinates, he's a bottomless pit. Backstage at Québec someone told me he was schizophrenic, well maybe..maybe he drowned in the abyss of the Dream, like Nelligan, the best of our poets; but schizophrenia does not explain the Dream; rather than mad, I'd say he is alone; the "Romance du Vin" is no less harsh than is the tortured character of "Childlike faith in childhood's end." More a tragic character than an illuminatus, he's a madman who is conscious of his madness; this consciousness is scary, it's the chimera of classic Romanticism, the wall of Surrealism, a sort of "passion Play" with no exit, no way out. Every evening, seeing Peter take to the stage is like watching Sisyphus rolling his stone, a lucid absurdity. You can feel how terribly alone he is, like an ape pacing repeatedly in his cage, awkward guitar, tortured; Peter plays with his back to the audience for half of the time, his head down, nervous. His voice, delirious or poignant, brilliant in intention, bringing to each sound/word the right texture, volume, and timbre; the sound really communicates the meaning, they both come right from the gut. He is one of those rare performers for whom the singing is not calculated but total; he gives completely of himself, there is no more, nothing left. He throws himself down, he gets up again, its "Still Life", the organ ends it superbly, the emotions on a royal trip. And tonight I feel a sense of suffering, a coldness hangs around me, it's hard to watch. The intro to "Arrow" on the electric piano is harrowing like Dante's Hell, "life is a stage on which we pass", the evening climbs on, as nightmarish as any piece of science fiction, it's schizoid terror, it's... phew!
No scene backstage tonight, exhaustion, except for Guy Evans, the drummer whose playing on "Sleepwalkers" was magisterial. He's talkative and friendly, and he greets us like old friends.
Countdown on the USS Chameleon, running through the Valley of the
Stegasauri, and I'm home by three thirty.