"Toronto Says Happy Birthday to Steve Hackett" - Steve Hackett live at Massey Hall, Toronto, February 12, 2018. Review by Joe Zammit.
This Christmas, my daughter, knowing how much I love Genesis got me a ticket to see Steve Hackett. Me leaving the 100th edition of TWR seemed to do the trick. So there I was at Massey Hall in Toronto on February 12, 2018 attending Hackett’s Genesis Revisited Tour show.
Now at some point in my life, a number of years ago I had glanced at some of the Youtube clips of Steve Hackett in a live performance. For one reason or another, I had strayed a little from his musical career. But when I realized he had been playing Genesis music – music for which he had been a key and central part of creating -then my interest was piqued. Honestly and embarrassingly, I had felt that in the clips I saw anyway, the musical recreation had been a bit week and a bit off. There did not seem to be an “oomph” to the playing. It wasn’t if you pardon the expression what I felt as true “ballsy” Genesis sounding music to me. So my attention to Hackett and what he was doing out on the road was once again diverted.
I now realize how wrong I was and how much I have been missing over these many years. Because the show I saw in Toronto was absolutely outstanding. A great bonus was the fact that on this night Mr. Hackett would be celebrating his 68th birthday. Hackett did not look or play as if he was 68 as that night he channeled a lot of the music that he had created when he was in his twenties and thereby celebrating the anniversaries of a great number of tunes.
The concert began with Hackett’s solo material that I was less familiar with but I was certainly riveted. Backed up by Jonas Reingold on Bass, Roger King on Keyboards, Gary O’Toole on Drums and Robert Townsend on wind instruments the audience was treated to an absolute powerhouse of music and artisanship. I will not soon forget the tremendous crescendo of sound they created that brought the Shadow of the Hierophant to a triumphal climax. I wondered if the ceiling of the old Massey Hall was going to be able to sustain the impact of true prog music in what has been traditionally called a “Cathedral of Sound”. That night we all witnessed the true living definition of that term. A fitting finish to the first half of the set that included Please Don’t Touch, Behind the Smoke (my new favourite song) and Icarus Ascending not to mention When the Heart Rules the Mind. Hackett played the hit song just after he announced to the audience that he really didn’t like playing hit songs. Well, it was the man’s birthday so I guess he could play whatever he damn well pleased and we were all the more happy to be at the receiving end of the gifts he was giving us this special night.
The group took a small break and then returned for the Genesis portion of the show. On vocals was Nad Sylvan and this is the part I got a little worried about. After all poor Nad has to compete in my mind with the likes of Messers Gabriel and Collins, surely no small feat. For me these songs are treasured childhood friends but I must say that Mr. Sylvan cleared and easily rose way above my expectations. For me he now joins that exclusive club of great vocalists who can indeed sing all of those songs and sing them very well. He set the tone starting with Dancing With the Moonlit Knight. Perfect! Then they played an absolute fav of mine One For The Vine and there I was transported to that mountaintop. Nad can therefore do Gabriel and Collins. The band was mesmerizing and here for my first time I was seeing the great guitar master of all of those songs play right in front of me. Next was Inside And Out- an unexpected song to hear on this night and a welcome addition to this musical experience. The Fountain of Salmacis once again crescendo and challenged the architectural strength of Massey Hall. We were in the cathedral once again and surely, I thought at one point the roof was going to come down. The band was incredible. The majestical Firth of Fifth with the trademark Hackett solo and The Musical Box followed which all did not disappoint. Then it all dawned on me. In 1974 Hackett played with Genesis in this very same hall. Here he was some forty - four years later playing the same songs but now twenty feet away on the same stage. Standing at the center of the stage instead of sitting stage right. His singer now in the place of him with Hackett and his guitar in clear central command. Hackett was at his very best on his birthday. Playing his guitars with expertise, finesse and grace. It was then that I had another memory recall. When Genesis had last played down the street in 2007 on the Turn it on Again tour Phil Collins had mentioned just before their encore that, “Toronto had seen the best and the worst of us over the years. Once we played at Massey Hall and a truck carrying all our lights drove right past Massey Hall and so we were stuck playing with just one blue light.” Let me tell you. On the 68th Birthday of Steve Hackett, he and his band more than made up for any shortcomings of the past.
Just when I thought it could not get better the band started Supper’s Ready and played it in its entirety. It was at this point I had tears in my eyes. I love that song and so did all at the Hall that night. The audience was singing along to all of the familiar lyrics. What a great night we all were having. I was also reminded of how great this music was. Great on record and spectacular live with its accompanying light show.
Before leaving the stage, a cake in the shape of a guitar resting on a guitar case was brought out with candles ablaze and we all sang Happy Birthday. Another great moment in an amazing night. In this age of social media it only took a few moments for the birthday scene to pop up on many of the Hackett tribute Facebook accounts. Then Hackett and his gifted band returned to the stage and played an encore Dance on a Volcano. Stupendous.
This night celebrating the birth of Mr. Steve Hackett, the walls shook, the ceiling trembled, the sounds of the 1970’s reverberated and communion was made with truly great and awesome music. Mea Culpa for not giving Mr. Hackett a fair hearing. I evidenced his great playing. I also realized how incredibly foundational and literally how instrumental he was to the music of Genesis from 1972 to 1978. Pieces of music where the word “classic” now defies the description. Go get a ticket to see Hackett now. What are you waiting for? Go see the master of the music you love, who today still carries forth the Genesis torch on high.