To characterize the music of Peter Hammill as intense is an understatement. The spark behind '70s prog-rock heroes Van Der Graaf Generator, Hammill has churned out raw emotional tales couched in harmonically shifty pop songs for 30 years. He brought his equally impassioned live show to Phantasmagoria on Saturday.
Joined by violinist Stuart Gordon--and a radio broadcast that kept coming through their amps--Hammill played electric piano and acoustic guitar during the 100-minute performance. Hammill's vocal timbre recalls that of Roger Waters and David Bowie, but his cadence is that of a performance poet; his voice fluctuated between a low growl in "Stranger Still" and a high groan in "Bubble."
The dynamic interplay between Gordon and Hammill was striking during "Comfortable?," for which the adoring crowd went nuts during the song's explosive crescendo, and in the extremely bleak but powerful "Sign."
Hammill prefaced his encore song, "The Future Now," and its reference to "the latter stages of the 20th century," by saying it may be the last time he plays it--"unless the lyrics get changed." Judging from the power and flourish with which he performed the 22-year-old tune, he may just do that.