House of Blues on 1st November 1999
The House of Blues is situated in Cambridge, Massachussets, across the river from Boston, and next to Harvard University. This last fact led me to think that there might be some there who didn't know Hammill's music but were there because of the location. This turned out not to be the case and I would estimate that there were about 70 people there, most of which were hardened Hammill fans. As with all the gigs in the US the audience were very receptive and very polite. The venue is a little contrived but not lacking in atmosphere. We had a meal in the restaurant before the concert and I understand that Stewart Gordon, the violinist, was there also but not having seen him before we didn't register his presence.
The HOB November schedule (shown on the left) contained the following blurb:
"London born Peter Hammill has recorded over 48 albums, written music for ballet, film and television, and has had two books published over the span of his 30 year career. During the seventies he was a singer and principal writer in the group Van der Graaf Generator which released 9 albums of sonically adventurous and complex music. Peter's solo records range from fully orchestrated songs to electrifying three chord electric guitar work. Having narrated for the Kronos Quartet, performed readings of his own work at numerous festivals, and sung on recordings by Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp, Hammill has toured all over the world and influenced a bewildering amount of musicians and writers. This is his debut HOB appearance".
They kicked off with 'Easy to Slip Away' which was appropriate under the circumstances. The song went down well with the audience and it was obvious that Hammill was pleased with the reaction. This was followed by 'Just Good Friends', 'Too many of my Yesterdays' and 'Nothing Comes', all on piano. These were followed by 'Comfortable?', 'Shingle' and 'Last Frame' on guitar. Mr. Hammill, fast approaching his 51st birthday then made a comment which he was to repeat at most of the gigs; "We're old guys and need a break". Thus, there folowed an intermission and opportunity to refill one's glass from the bar which was located in the hall itself. There was standing only at the venue.
Just before the start we had a chat with a guy who walked in with a copy of 'Fool's Mate' (on vinyl) which he hoped to get signed. He like most of the American's that we met hadn't seen Hammill since 1990. Peter apologised for this long gap at each concert and said that he would be back again within a shorter time.
After the break, and duly rejuvenated presumably, they performed: 'Sign', 'I will find you', and 'Patient' with PH on guitar, and 'A Better Time', 'Bubble', 'Stranger Still', Still Life' on piano and as an encore; 'Time for a Change' (on guitar).
I was pleased that I recognised all the songs though couldn't recall all the titles. I took some notes and checked later. It was a competent set and very enjoyable though I was a little saddened that he hadn't done any of my favourite tracks. I only noticed one mistake and he covered it up quite well.
I thought that Stewart Gordon's playing was masterful and I have decided probably better than Graham Smith's. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I heard that SG was, after all, going to accompany Hammill on this trip. The rumour had been that PH would be alone and having read a few adverse comments on the pH7 list, I hoped that this would be the case, but of course I hadn't actually seen SG perform up to that point.
In retrospect this wasn't the best gig, but we had decided to go to New York City....