As you may know, I recently had the pleasure to interview Gary Green via phone about bringing the music of Gentle Giant back for a new generation. This was in preparation for the Three Friends/The Mahavishnu Project concert in Philadelphia on June 20th at the Keswick Theatre. Well, the show has come and gone, and man was it a fantastic way to spend a Sunday night.
As always, the Keswick Theatre made the night enjoyable before the show even started by allowing us prog fanatics, spanning generations, to gather around in the comfortable reclining red seats and discuss our excitement and passion for the music. With food and drink in hand, we discussed growing up with the music of Gentle Giant and Mahavishnu Orchestra, either during the original time period or as the offspring of a fan (such as me). And at 7:30, right on time, the lights dimmed, the audience cheered, and The Mahavishnu Project stepped onto the stage.
Playing for over an hour, The Mahavishnu Project simply blew me away. Opening with fan favorite "Meeting of the Spirits," they recreated other popular tracks like "The Dance of Maya" (with some improvisation) and "One Word," as well as lesser known gems like "Cosmic Strut" and "John's Song" from The Lost Trident Sessions. And of course, the musicianship was top notch from everyone involved, and my jaw dropped several times in amazement. Between almost every song, a band member would thank us for our support and applause. It's refreshing to see such skilled musicians appear so humbly (especially violinist Zack Brock, who simply smiled and nodded after playing some really incredible solos). This was only the appetizer, of course, and around 9:00 p.m., after a short break and some quirky introduction music, Three Friends stepped out.
And when they did, I was surprised to see someone else singing. It turns out that Mick Wilson had issues with his Visa and a longtime fan named Pierre Bordeleau filled in. He did a fantastic job, singing in a slightly higher voice than expected, but still very fitting.
Naturally, they opened with "Prologue" from Three Friends (the third Gentle Giant album). They then launched into "Playing the Game" and "The Advent of Panurge" before bringing out the less familiar "Empty City" from In'terview. Throughout the show, they recreated classics like "Just The Same," "Proclamation/Valedictory," "In a Glass House" and "Free Hand" almost perfectly. It's great that they acknowledged almost the entire career of GG, including "I Lost My Head" from In'terview, "His Last Voyage" and "Free Hand" from Free Hand, "The Boys in the Band" from Octopus, and "Pantagruel's Nativity" from Acquiring the Taste. And just as they opened with an appropriate track, they closed with "Giant" from their debut. Only the last three albums (which Gary himself said weren't as good) were excluded. Finally, since Three Friends is the only album Malcolm Mortimore played on (he was in a motorcycle accident and John Weathers took over from Octopus onward), Three Friends also played "Schooldays" and "Mister Class and Equality."
Of course, the a-typical instruments that GG would play themselves were handled by keyboardist John Donaldson, so the music didn't sound quite as organic and real, but that's quite understandable. The music was very complex, but they pulled it off masterfully. Gary Green broke his high E string twice, which resulted in some very humorous banter and discussion with the audience as the rest of the band waited for him to fix it. It was great to have these informal moments because it revealed a bunch of guys who simply appreciate playing for fellow GG fans. We were all enjoying the night together.
After the show was over, there was a meet & greet with Malcolm, Gary and Pierre. I got autographs of course. The highlight was having Gary Green tell me how much he enjoyed the interview, saying that it was nice to have someone actually ask him follow-up questions instead of rattling off pre-planned ones like a machine. I'm glad he was impressed. He came outside and talked some more with whatever fans were still around (it was almost midnight). As always, the Keswick Theatre provided an unforgettable night of comfortable atmosphere, great music and rare opportunity to talk with the artists we admire, cementing it further as my favorite venue in the Philly area.