“Another trip down memory lane” - Wuthering Nights in Birmingham, Steve Hackett’s latest live DVD/CD reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
How can you explain the “Hackett Experience” to anyone who hasn’t seen or heard it? I will leave that to you folks but in the meantime I shall try and explain what it means to this ageing fan instead.
It is always intriguing when a recording is released from a gig which you have actually attended and this one is no exception. Will memory match the Memorex so to speak? Will things you had forgotten suddenly spring back into mind? We shall see…
My vantage point for this gig was up in the nosebleed seats which gave me a fantastic view of the stage set up and indeed, throughout the show I was able to take in the light show far more easily than from my usual vantage point in the stalls. The Symphony Hall is an incredibly impressive building, perfectly designed for the concert experience although I don’t think Simon Rattle had the “Hackett Experience” in mind when he designed it! No matter, the ambience of the room played a major part in tonight’s proceedings. So too did the audience, in fact I have to say that audiences at all of the gigs I attended on last year’s tour were far more vocal and involved in the music than had previously been the case, and some venues more so than others!
The show has grown in stature since Steve began this whole Genesis Revisited experiment. It could have so easily fallen flat on its face but, as we have all since found out, there is still a lot of life in these vintage tunes. Dividing the show up into effectively two sets, the “Hackett” and the “Genesis” ones has proven to be a wise decision. After all, Steve does have some twenty five albums of his own too, you know and in fact, this tour was not only a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of his swansong album with Genesis, 1977’s Wind & Wuthering, but also the release of his latest opus:, the magnificent Night Siren.
As such, the first half of the show gave us the chance to hear some of the new album in the live context and what an amazing experience that was too. Sadly, only three tracks were played from it but they were definitely the cream of the crop. El Nino, is, to my ears, the finest instrumental Steve has written since Spectral Mornings and here you can see the entire band almost lift the roof of the Symphony Hall off with a truly outstanding performance. The dream sequence (or should that be aural nightmare?) that is In The Skeleton Gallery followed shortly afterwards and worked remarkably well in the live setting. But without a doubt the strongest of the new material was Steve’s commentary on refugees and their plight that is Behind The Smoke, not only a song with a vitally important message in these increasingly insane days, but also a truly superb piece of rock music.
Of course, the back catalogue was also represented and there were a couple of surprises among the choices this year too. Perennial favourite Every Day got the evening off to a suitably high flying start and no Hackett show would be complete without it or indeed, the ethereal beauty of The Steppes which followed a couple of songs later and here Rob Townsend really went to town (pun intended) delivering a spine tingling performance.
I was delighted to see the welcome return to the set of Steve’s homage to his late father, Peter in the delightful Serpentine Song, and I admit I shed a few tears during it thinking of my own late father. A simple and yet beautiful track performed to perfection here. The real surprise of the tour was the inclusion of a track from the underrepresented Darktown album and it just happens to be one of my favourites too. Rise Again is an astonishing tour de force on record. In concert it soars to even greater heights and it really hit’s the spot on this recording.
With Amanda Lehmann present, the first half of the performance was brought to a close with a majestic performance of Shadow Of The Hierophant which was sublime in its magnificence.
A short interlude (for Steve to get that much needed cuppa as we find out in the accompanying documentary) and the band were back for the Genesis half of the show which got under way with Eleventh Earl Of Mar. Visually and musically this was a stunning performance and the slightly strained tone of Nad Sylvan’s voice (Nad had been suffering from a cold in the days leading up to this gig) added even more drama to the performance.
Another welcome addition this year was the inclusion at last of the truly symphonic One For The Vine, and in this setting it was yet another superb performance by the entire band. Blood On The Rooftops brought yet more blubbering from yours truly up in the gods and watching the DVD had almost the same effect. Gary O’Toole delivered this one to perfection and it gets better each time I hear it
In That Quiet Earth and Afterglow don’t really require any further comment from me, their place in the Genesis/Hackett canon is secure enough without them. I must say though that positioning Dance On A Volcano half way through the set was a tad jarring and it s did seem out of place here but that is not to decry the musical performance which was another sublime one from the entire band and the rhythm section of Beggs/O’Toole in particular making this a superbly muscular rendition.
The surprise inclusion that had got the fan base talking even before Steve took to the road was next. Most fans (and some band members) are emphatic in their assertion that Inside & Out should have been on the Wind & Wuthering album and it isn’t hard to see why on the basis of the performance captured here. This is a truly remarkable song and the band evidently took great delight in bringing this tale of injustice to life. Some might have found Rob Townsend’s sax at the end a tad over the top but I loved it, it brought a fresh slant to the track and perspective is what it is all about, eh?
The final three tracks are already firm favourites and classics and deservedly so Firth of Fifth will always remain Steve’s finest moment within Genesis, and the years have not diminished either his playing or the sheer emotion that it raises every time I hear it. The same goes for The Musical Box, which saw Nad Sylvan in his best thespianic mode and revelling in the sheer majesty of the performance.
Of course, what else could bring the show to its close but… Los Endos and here we had a balls to the wall tour de force performance from the entire band who were obviously having a whale of a time playing it and that brought what was another wonderful evening’s entertainment to a close. Those of us who were lucky enough to witness this gig will have our own memories of it which are refreshed by this document of it. Those of you who didn’t see this show, or who didn’t see the tour at all, well, now you can kick yourselves for what you missed!
There are a few caveats however, as with the previous Liverpool DVD, on occasions the visuals were not quite as crisp as expected and indeed, the constant use of jump shots deprived us of being able to savour a moment long enough. It is difficult to try and do everyone justice and it would be so easy to focus on the main man, but a tad more emphasis on giving each musician their moment to shine would have been nice. Same goes for capturing the simplified but highly effective lighting which from where I was, up in the gods, was at times visually stunning. Concert films seldom capture that particular magic satisfactorily and this one is no exception but it would have been considerably better had the people in the editing suite taken a tad more care to include more of it but in their defence, once again, they were no doubt trying to be fair to everyone.
As usual with a Hackett live release, the story does not end with the concert itself, and this time we have several extras. First of these is the by now obligatory “Behind The Scenes” documentary which, if you have the previous DVD will seem remarkably similar but there are some entertaining moments therein.
The real treat for me however, was the inclusion of the promo films made for Behind The Smoke, Fifty Miles From The North Pole and West To East all of which are truly remarkable and powerful and superbly filmed. Those of you lucky enough to have the printed version of our centenary edition will have read the marvellous feature by film maker, Paul Gosling on how these were made and they are a joy to watch and unlike so many music videos actually TELL a story!
And that is it, another live document for the archive and some wonderful memories for those of us who can say “I was there”.
Steve Hackett : Wuthering Nights In Birmingham. Inside Out IOMCD 499