"Steve Hackett and the Genesis legacy" - A review of two shows from the 2017 Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett tour. Review by Jack Beermann.
When Genesis fandom’s lord overseer Alan Hewitt (must be some other Alan Hewitt… not me… AH) asked me to contribute to TWR’s 100th issue, I thought I would try and write an essay encapsulating what it has meant to be a Genesis fan since that fateful night, 17th April 1976, when I first experienced the band’s music at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago Illinois. I tried a few times but it was a non-starter. There was too much to say and no clear direction. After seeing two shows of Steve’s current tour promoting his soon to be released album, The Night Siren, I realised that the best approach would be to review Steve’s shows and male some career- spanning comments along the way. Steve is the only Genesis Hall of Famer keeping the flame of Genesis alive, first with his Genesis Revisited tours and now with his tours that combine solo and Genesis work.
As a long-time fan and more recent friend of Mr Hackett and his nicest person in the history of the universe wife, Jo, it has been gratifying to see the success Steve has had in these last several years (I should at this point remind TWR readers that it was Mr Hewitt who introduced me to Mr Hackett on the day of his appearance at the Royal Albert Hall with tribute band The Musical Box). His last album, Wolflight was, in my view a real breakthrough musically, sonically and lyrically. The four songs Steve is currently performing from the forthcoming The Night Siren album take it a step further, building on Wolflight’s success and pushing beyond it
After attending both of Steve’s abbreviated sets on The Cruise To The Edge, I saw two shows on the 2017 tour, February 25th at The Playstation Theatre in New York City and February 26th at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. The set lists for the two were nearly identical except that in Boston Steve did not perform Horizons, instead launching quickly into the nylon acoustic opening of Blood On The Rooftops after a bit of improvisation on the acoustic.
The first half of each show consisted of Steve’s solo work. The shows opened with three songs played in rapid succession - Every Day from 1979’s Spectral Mornings, El Nino from the Night Siren and The Steppes from 1980’s Defector. All three songs were received enthusiastically by the crowds in both cities. It was apparent that, especially in New York, Steve was particularly happy with The Steppes, which has always been one of my favourites, and he confided later that he really likes the current arrangement better than the original, which features some over the top booming percussion by Gary O’Toole and a haunting soprano sax introduction by Rob Towsend. El Nino is a rousing musical number, somewhat of a tease for the new album.
After the third song, Steve greeted the crowd and introduced the next number from his forthcoming album. In The Skeleton Gallery. This is the only song from the new album that has been officially released on social media. The first half of the track sounds like a pop anthem on steroids, with lyrics about loneliness and footprints on Mars, and then becomes a musical adventure, with haunting saxophone, a marching dream sequence and a guitar riff worthy of the heaviest practitioner of heavy metal. In the tradition of Hackett guitar adventurism there is a guitar effect which I can only describe as a musical scalpel slicing through the song, consisting of a massive volume increase at the end of a piercing note. You can see that it is not easy to pull off live, but Steve did it both nights to a great reaction.
Behind The Smoke, also from The Night Siren, is a haunting song about refugees, as Steve says, “past and present”. In New York, Steve provided a bit more detail recounting that his ancestors were refugees in England from pogroms in Eastern Europe and that if England had not let them in “I wouldn’t be here today”. The song describes the plight of the fleeing refugee pressing forward with no return. This song is another sonic adventure with some of Steve’s best singing. He really belts this one out on both nights, proving that he has the range and lungs to carry the vocals on his solo works to great advantage. Following Behind The Smoke, Steve played Serpentine Song from 2003’s To Watch The Storms. Steve explained in New York that this song was for his father, who had many different skills and interests. This was perhaps the most gentle moment of the shows with Steve focused on delicate melodies that provided a perfect emotional backdrop to the tribute to his father.
The solo portion of the show was rounded out by Rise Again from 1999’s Darktown album and the closing section of Shadow Of The Hierophant from Steve’s first solo album, 1975’s Voyage Of The Acolyte. Shadow…builds to an epic crescendo. This song is pure progressive rock power and the audiences seem to have been in a trance along with bassist Nick Beggs and his unorthodox choice to play the bass pedals with his fists, sitting cross-legged on the floor, in New York in dark trousers, but in Boston in his trademark kilt. It was a bit too cold in New York to go sans trousers!
That concluded the solo portion of the show, and although it is to be expected that many of the fans were patiently waiting for the Genesis potion of the show, Steve was genuinely gratified by how well both crowds received the solo songs, especially the new ones from an album that was not (at time of writing - AH) yet available. This is probably due to a variety of factors. Steve’s solo work is more Genesis-like than other ex-Genesis solo ventures which shows just how important Steve was in creating the Genesis “sound”. Further, Steve’s current band is a remarkable unit - in addition to the musicians previously mentioned, Roger King is a master on keyboards, recreating an astonishing variety of sounds, melodies and rhythms from his perch at the rear of the stage. Finally, the songs are simply excellent and played by one of the rock world’s greatest ever guitarists.
For the Genesis portion of the show, now-familiar vocalist Nad Sylvan joined the band onstage. Because 2017 is the fortieth anniversary of Wind & Wuthering , Steve decided to focus the Genesis portion of the set on that album. Steve and the band play five songs from it: Eleventh Earl of Mar, One For The Vine, Blood On The Rooftops, Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers-In That Quiet Earth, and Afterglow. They also played a tune from the Spot The Pigeon EP, Inside & Out, which Steve said he thought was one of the better songs from that period and which should have made the album. He also remarked that it was an early lyrical effort by one P Collins. The guitar solo in this one is so fast that it is virtually impossible to play live. Steve gave it a great try both nights and the result was excellent. That’s not much to say about the performance of Wind & Wuthering songs except that hey sounded better than Genesis ever sounded playing them, This may be due in some part to advances in technology, but there is also the simple fact that this is a band of virtuosos, and Rob Townsend’s multi instrumental skills allow for the expanded arrangements, including soprano sax and more than one variety of flute where Genesis in 1977 used synthesisers.
Just a couple of additional comments on the Wind & Wuthering material. The band sounded fantastic on both of these nights, capturing the power that made Genesis one of the world’s best live bands in the 1970’s. It really brought me back to that evening in February 1977 when I sat in the front row of the Dane County Coliseum in Madison Wisconsin for that tour (don’t you just hate people like this eh? … AH) The soaring guitars and booming bass pedals were there in all their glory, just as they were forty years ago. Nad does a great job on the vocals. In New York, he sounded especially good on One For The Vine and in Boston he killed it on Afterglow, which Steve dedicated to the memory of his recently departed friend, John Wetton (the quiet version of Heat Of The Moment that Steve and John performed together on the Tokyo Tapes is a must listen to contemplate what John Wetton meant to the world of Progressive rock). Inside & Out is a nuggets that most Genesis fans are unlikely to have heard before, live or in the studio. Phil Collins once quipped on one of the rare occasions that Genesis played it live that it was racing up the Indonesian charts!
The show concluded with three of Genesis’ most popular songs among the “old” fans, Dance On A Volcano, Firth Of Fifth and The Musical Box. Steve ripped through Dance On A Volcano, playing it with a harder edge than on A Trick Of The Tail and at Genesis live shows throughout the years. It was a rollicking version with precision starts and stops led by Gary O’Toole’s powerful drums. Once again, Nad’s vocals were excellent. The only thing missing was the thumbs up signal that Phil Collins would flash whenever he sang the line “you better start doing it right” . Firth of Fifth contains Steve’s signature guitar solo and Roger King nailed the piano intro on both nights. Steve experiments with slight alterations of sounds and phrasing, which is understandable after forty four years of playing the song live, but the changes are small enough that the fans of the original are not remotely disappointed. For my part, I love it when Steve tries new things even on old songs, even with completely different arrangements for Firth Of Fifth’s middle section that were used for some prior tours.
At both of theses shows The Musical Box brought the crowd to its feet. In my view, The Musical Box more than any other song, encapsulates the greatness of Genesis throughout its nearly fifty year existence. Partly written by Anthony Phillips before Steve joined the band, it spans the entire period of Peter Gabriel’s time with Genesis. It was performed in a slightly different form with some lyrical variations before it was recorded with Steve and Phil for Nursery Cryme, From the moment it was released, it was performed at virtually every Genesis show with Peter Gabriel and was the only non-Lamb.. Song in the main set of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. Steve’s band plays this song with real power. Nick Beggs uses a special guitar to recreate the sounds that Mike Ruthefordf made on rhythm guitar in some sections and drummer Gary O’Toole adds the drum fills that were often left out when Phil was on the vocals. Nad Sylvan captures the original power of the song’s finale although I don’t think he is open to being convinced to put on a mask and bare his chest for it. Maybe a red dress…?
Both nights, the band encored with a rocking version of Los Endos which includes some snippets of Steve’s solo song The Air Conditioned Nightmare. This is a jazzy blow-the-roof-off-of-the-place rock. The presence of Rob Townsend blowing various horns allows more range in the arrangement and during the Squonk section at the end, Nad reappears on stage to sing Genesis’ farewell to Peter Gabriel… “there’s an angel standing in the sun, free to get back home…” This culminated a wild two hour and twenty minute ride through the Steve Hackett/Genesis oeuvre. Any disappointments? As might be expected, some people in the audience were calling out for Supper’s Ready, the godhead of Genesis songs to some. I wouldn’t mind hearing it but then Steve would have to cut three other great songs to make room for all twenty six minutes of it . At least there were no chants for The Knife, which used to be a staple call from Genesis fans throughout the early 1980’s. I missed the Wolflight songs from the last tour but just little, and the new songs from The Night Siren more than made up for it.
A final word on TWR’s 100th issue. Over the years, even now when the Genesis flame is burning particularly low, Alan Hewitt has kept us all feeling like we are still part of something special. What would we Genesis fans do without Steve Hackett and Alan Hewitt I ask? I look forward to writing again for issue 200.
Wow! To be mentioned in the same breath as Steve is very flattering indeed and especially coming from a fan of Jack’s calibre whom I respect enormously. Hey, me? I’m just a lawnmower as someone once said….