“Hackett hacks it in Melbourne” - The Steve Hackett weekend in Melbourne, Australia recounted in words and images by Joshua Batten. Memorabilia: TWR Archive
It’s fair to say that when it comes to Progressive Rock concerts, Australia has been the redheaded stepchild. Because we are so isolated from the rest of the world, Prog never quite reached the same level of mainstream success here as it has in places like Europe, England and America, and several bands tend to skip us on the regular touring schedule.
|However, as with any style of music, there has always been an underground market for Prog in Australia, going back as far as tour in the 1970’s by Yes, Frank Zappa, Focus and Jethro Tull. Since the turn of the 21 st century and the Internet, Prog has been slowly on the rise in the Australian live music scene. Yes toured here twice in three years before Chris Squire’s passing and modern bands such as Dream Theater, Steven Wilson/porcupine Tree, Queensryche and The Devin Townsend Project have all toured here on multiple occasions to a combination of devoted metalheads and Prog nerds. But the one band that has never seemed to get their due in this country is Genesis.|
As an active unit they only ever made it out to Australia once in 1986 well after Peter Gabriel an Steve Hackett left the band. As solo artists, Phil Collins toured e several times in the late ‘80’s/early '90’s and Peter Gabriel was instrumental in setting up the now annual WOMADelaide music festival. However, the classic progressive music of Genesis has never been played on an Australian stage until now. Thanks to the concert promoter David Roy Williams (who has also promoted some of the acts I mentioned earlier), it was announced late last year that Steve Hackett would finally be bringing his revered Genesis Revisited set to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 2017.
The initial announcement included one show each in Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. One show simply wasn’t going to be enough for me, so I started looking into he logistics of travelling to either Sydney or Brisbane to catch a show ahead of the one in Melbourn, my hometown. However, those plans changed once it was announced that in addition to his main Genesis Revisited show at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre on 5 th August Steve would play two further shows on 6th August. One would be an acoustic set at the Melbourne Guitar Show in the afternoon, while the other would be an intimate “Wind & Wuthering 40 th anniversary” show at 170 Russell, a single level nightclub akin to the 013 in Tilburg. I became one of only a handful of people to purchase tickets to all three Melbourne shows and this is my recap of that crazy weekend …
I spent Saturday morning and afternoon at the Melbourne Guitar Show which is a display convention for music stores and guitar brands, with festival - style performances happening at the same time on multiple stages. On the first day alone, I played tons of new and used guitars and basses and met multiple Australian guitar slingers such as Brett Garsed, Geoff Achison, Lloyd Spiegel, Fiona Boynes, Steven Magnusson and Bob Spencer.
Once my a day at the Guitar Show was finished, I headed to Melbourne’s southern suburb of St Kilda where the pre-show fan gathering took place at a little dive bar with a beer garden called The Vineyard (the connection to the song One For The Vine didn ’t even cross my mind when picking the venue). From the fan gathering, I picked up on the fact that a lot of people going to the main Genesis Revisited shows were actually British immigrants who grew up in England in the 1970’s during Prog’s peak years and classic Genesis in particular. Additionally, people travelled to Melbourne from several Australian cities where Steve wasn’t scheduled to play, including Perth, Adelaied, Canberra and Darwin.
The Palais is a classic hundred year old theatre (currently under restoration) that has played host to some of the biggest artists of all time. It holds 2800 people, but most of the top level was blocked off with a curtain leaving 1500 seats on sale of which I would say about 1450 of them had bums on them by the time the lights dimmed and the band took the stage.
|Having watched the Genesis Revisited Hammersmith DVD, I noticed the stage set up was almost identical to now it has been for the past few years with the exception of an empty riser in the middle which in the past has been used for guest singers and the climax of Supper’s Ready. Aside from this, I really got the impression that no expense had been spared to make sure that the show we got was identical in quality to that of a show in Europe or America. Of course, where there are no rear screen projections or massive stage props, it is easier to pull off, but the lighting throughout the night was second to none, with the expected blue, green and purple tints bathing the stage throughout the night, just as it had at Hammersmith and the Royal Albert Hall. Additionally, throughout the night, the lights acted as the seventh member of the band, providing more of a visual aid to the music than most rear screen music videos deployed by other bands.|
The show began with Every Day followed by a trilogy of songs from Steve ’s latest album, The Night Siren. During this self-indulgent set I really took notice of Steve’s unique technique , mainly not using a plectrum but still holding his hand in a picking position. This enables him to quickly switch from picking to styles such as tapping and Whammy bar use (an excellent example being the instrumental El Nino). The band members sang backing vocals on Every Day and In The Skeleton Gallery which sounded great, but I suspect backing tracks may have been used as well to fill in the sound that was present on the studio versions.
The solo Hackett set concluded with the instrumental section that makes up the second half of Shadow Of The Hierophant. I understand the first half wasn’t played due to the absence of Steve’s sister-in-law, Amanda Lehmann on rhythm guitar and vocals, but I feel like this was a wasted opportunity to get a talented Australian female singer on board for this beautiful dong. Worthy candidates in my mind would have been Kate Miller- Heidke or Katie Noonan.
The next two hours consisted entirely of Genesis material, with Swedish singer Nad Sylvan combining the flamboyant actions of Peter Gabriel with the light vocal tone of Phil Collins, resulting in the best of both worlds. Drummer, Gary O ’Toole also took lead vocals on Fly On A Windshield/Broadway Melody of 1974 from Genesis ’landmark concept album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Song selection for the show was close to perfect. Selling England By The Pound , The Lamb … A Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering were each represented by two songs in the main set with the main set closers being the double shot of The Musical Box followed by Supper ’s Ready. The only notable omission I can think of (apart from the songs I knew would get played the following night) was In That Quiet Earth, which usually acts as an intro to Afterglow and was instead replaced with a speech from Steve where he delivered a eulogy to his late friend, John Wetton who only toured Australia once as a hired player for Roxy Music and sadly never returned to play the music he wrote with UK, King Crimson and Asia.
Although the members of the band kept a straight face, I never once got the impression that they were struggling with the material or not enjoying themselves. They each have a distinct personality that drives their stage presence. Roger King is no more expressive than Tony Banks, Rob Townsend constantly juggles keyboards, flute and soprano saxophone, Gary O’Toole is the timekeeper and grand boss in his suit and tie. And then there is Nick Beggs …
I have already seen Nick twice with Steven Wilson and he is usually the most expressive person on stage. At this show, he tried to act serious and hold a straight face but it was almost as if he was doing it ironically. My favourite moment of his was during Shadow Of The Hierophant (which has no guitar or bass guitar part) he decided to sit cross legged and play the bass pedals with his hands.
With regard to sound, the mix as very clear and at a reasonable volume. I do think Nad’s vocals were initially a bit too low in the mix, bit this was fixed relatively quickly. Finally, in regard to audience engagement, the Melbourne audience were quite reserved from where I was sitting with only a handful of people singing along in the front row (I actually got shouted down for trying to sing along with Eleventh Earl of Mar!).
My final verdict on the show was that it was flawless, engaging and spiritual. Even though there were empty seats, I needn’t have worried because it felt like they were just playing for me, and ever song was met with rapturous applause. One down, two to go …
The next morning I headed off to the Guitar Show early in the hopes of catching Gary O’Toole who I knew would be there to see his second cousin, Joseph Balfe from New Zealand. I caught a bit of Joseph’s set and was very impressed with his Chet Atkins /Tommy Emmanuel style acoustic guitar skill at the young age of eighteen. Once I had re-introduce myself to Gary (who really enjoyed Joseph ’s set), I headed to the other sode of the convention to take my place for Steve ’s set./
Alongside English guitarist, Alex Hutchings and Canadian guitarist, Nick Johnson, Steve and his band were the first international guests to platy the Festival and as such, you needed to have bought a special ticket in advance to get into the mezzanine room to watch his performance. Steve took the stage on his own around 12:00 and immediately launched into a medley using Classical Gas as a framework then going through various fragments of unfamiliar tunes before finally finishing with his signature piece, Horizons, the intro to Supper’s Ready from Foxtrot.
Steve then brought Roger King and Rob Townsend onstage to play through a number of acoustic arrangements of songs from Steve’s illustrious and prolific solo career including Jacuzzi, Jazz On A Summer’s Night, Second Chance and Walking Away From Rainbows. This was followed by another medley starting off with improvisations on the whole tone scale. Then throwing in excerpts from The Red Flower Of Taichi \Blooms Everywhere and Hands Of The Priestess. The show concluded with Ace Of Wands (one of my personal favourites) followed by Bacchus and an excerpt from Firth of Fifth.
The set was a nice showcase of how although Steve is very much associated with Rock & Roll, he approaches composition and guitar playing with a very classical sensibility. I also really liked how Roger King didn ’t just play grand piano and also instead added string and folk sounds to compliment the guitar and sax/flute.
The Q & A that followed didn’t go on for very long but I learned a bit about his history with Fernandes guitars (his main guitar used to belong to Gary Moore) and that his favourite modern guitarist is also my favourite, Joe Bonamassa. I asked him about his picking technique and he gave a very good response where he explained that constantly dropping plectrums in the 1980 ’s had led him to experiment with just using his thumbnail and forefinger.
After resting in the afternoon, I headed back out into the central business district in the evening for the final show at 170 Russell Street, also known as Billboard. Although the club holds a thousand people it too had the back curtained off, chopping the capacity in half. All in all, there were probably no more than 250 people at this final show but you would not have know it from the noise we made.
Advertised as a special “Wind & Wuthering 40th Anniversary" show, the set began with five songs from that album hat Steve and his band had played previously in the order they appeared on the album : Eleventh Earl Of Mar, One For The Vine, Blood On The Rooftops, Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers-In That Quiet Earth, Afterglow. The only other representation from the album was the performance of Inside & Out the outtake from the Album hat ended up on the Spot The Pigeon EP.
The rest of the set included a few repeats from the previous night : Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Firth of Fifth, Musical Box and Los Endos, three Hackett solo songs: Behind The Smoke, The Steppes and Spectral Mornings and three rare Genesis songs brought back exclusively for this one-off show: I Know What I Like, Watcher of The Skies and Fountain Of Salmacis.
Because this was an intimate standing t room only venue, the audience was pretty much more privy to dancing and singing along to all the songs than they had been at the Palais. I also got the feeling that the band themselves enjoyed being in this smaller venue too - during the jam section of I Know What I Like you couldn’t ignore the smiles on the faces of the band members.
All in all, despite the small crowd, many audience members cited this as the best concert they had ever seen and I can see why. Everyone was singing along and the band had more positive energy to feed offending the tour on a high note.
I find myself lost for further words to describe this final show, so I will hand it over to some of the fellow prog heads who were there that night …
(Anne Corris) … “Hell’s bells, what a show! I think it was the best of the tour. Small venue - about 200 punters. But everyone was singing their lungs out to every song. G A show so no seating - it makes a big difference. And we got Salmacis and Watcher! Just a bloody brilliant way to finish an awesome tour” .
(Michael Hodgson) … “This event was truly a once-in-a lifetime experience. All of us gathered porgies are still on such a high about it, not quite believing what we saw and getting to share it with each other is the sort of memory to last a lifetime, that reaffirms that sense of outsider community and camaraderie that fans of the genre build together” .
(Harry Blackburn) … “We were blessed to be close enough tonight to see the hands of o guitar master at work. Technically proficient, oh yes, but the precision and delicate care with which those hands, fingers, palm and wrist wrung out the most exquisite sounds was spellbinding to watch. What a privilege” .
I highly doubt that enough money was made on this tour to justify a second visit from Steve. But I guess that this just makes this particular tour even more memorable because it will never be repeated. All I can say is thank you to David Roy Williams, Steve, Jo, Nad, Roger, Rob, Gary and Nick for making this happen and finally whetting the appetite of the Australian Prog community for live Genesis, the way it was meant to be played.
And thank you, Josh for being TWR ’s roving reporter to cover such a historic event.