"Spectral Mornings And Other Stories" - The new live album/DVD release from Steve Hackett reviewed by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt, Lee Millward And Mike Ainscoe.
OK, so I have to admit to a LOT of bias where this one is concerned. 2019's tour by Steve managed to combine my two favourite albums from his time as a member of the Gabriel led Genesis and as a solo performer - Selling England By The Pound and Spectral Mornings, the latter incredibly celebrating its fortieth anniversary no less!
I had been looking forward to these gigs ever since they were announced, and especially since Steve had confirmed that he would be performing several tracks from Spectral which had not been performed since 1979.
By the time I got to the show at Hammersmith Odeon which is where this recording is from, I was already familiar with the show and knew exactly what to expect. And what a show it was! The Hammersmith Odeon is a superb setting for music like this and it truly reflected the magnificence of what was being performed.
Opening with the evergreen Every Day, which simply gets better with age we then got a trio of tracks from the new album which Steve had released earlier in the year - Under The Eye Of The Sun. Taking the strongest tracks, the title track, Fallen Walls & Pedestals and Beasts In Our Time all laden with significance for the times we live in, they were all well received by the crowd.
Then it was back to the heady days of 1979 for a while, beginning with The Virgin & The Gypsy which, as I expected, reduced me to tears. With the added harmonies of Amanda Lehmann and new drummer, Craig Blundell, this was a joy and I hope it can return its place in the set for a while longer. Tigermoth had been truncated back to the instrumental rump which had been performed in '79 and indeed, if I closed my eyes I could almost have been back at the Reading Festival of that year. Weelll, not quite, Reading didn't come with such comfortable seats from which to view the proceedings!
Spectral Mornings itself came next, and with the synth into restored. This one brings back so many memories and indeed, I could feel the presence of one of Steve's greatest fans who I am sure was looking down on proceedings with approval. I can't find any superlatives that haven't already been thrown at this one, so choose your own folks!
The Red Flower Of Taichi was another delight, a truly wonderful slice of instrumental Hackett and, speaking of such, Clocks returned to the set after a lengthy absence to be greeted like an old - if slightly insane - friend. Craig Blundell obviously went to the same drum school as John Shearer and he abused his drum kit in a similarly relentless fashion throughout to the delight of the crowd.
Then we were taken even further "Westwards" (or backwards) in time to the equally heady days of 1973 for the much anticipated performance of the Selling England By The Pound album in its entirety. This has always been my favourite album from the Gabriel led era of the band's story and Steve's band certainly did it justice! Nad Sylvan is the perfect singer to bring these hoary old chestnuts back to life. He doesn't try to sound like Peter - for which I am truly grateful as that would be a major mistake. Instead he puts his own unique stamp on the vocals and delivered some truly impressive readings here.
Dancing With The Moonlit Knight was delivered piping hot and was relished by the crowd - and the band. Steve's decision to go with the more extemporised version of I Know What I Like from the first Genesis Revisited album was, to my mind, the weakest point in the show. Rob Townsend's soloing went on far too long on this one and reduced it to a saxophone fest at times - sorry Rob!
Balance was soon restored however, with a truly majestic performance of Firth Of Fifth which of course features two of the most famous instrumentals and tonight Messrs Hackett and King delivered them both flawlessly. I doubt if Genesis in their heyday could deliver this one any better - especially since Tony Banks no longer performs the intro!
Nad Sylvan came into his own in the delicate More Fool Me and indeed again on The Battle Of Epping Forest where he had great fun with the vocal characterisations. Musically this one works far better than it has any right to although as an attempt to emulate the epic scale of Supper's Ready, it was always destined to never reach those heights. It nonetheless has moments of high drama and low farce, very much like its predecessor.
Another highlight for me was that "contentious little number" After The Ordeal. A superb slice of classical prog which is always a joy. Steve and Roger delivered it impeccably tonight.
The lurid take of the goings on at The Cinema Show were next and here the entire band swallowed the chance to perform it with evident glee and there were many grins swapped between band members on stage and an equal number amongst the audience too, I suspect. Then the punningly clever Aisle Of Plenty drew the performance of the album to a close and was greeted by rapturous applause from the audience.
However, the take of that album was not quite over as Steve had also decided to perform the album's missing piece : Deja Vu, and it was here that Nad Sylvan stole the show for me with a vocal performance that I doubt even Mr Gabriel could have bettered.
After taking their bows, and well deserved applause, the band returned to the stage for the expected encores and what else could close a show like this other than Dance On A Volcano and Los Endos in which the entire band and especially the rhythm section of Craig Blundell and Jonas Reingold threatened to rip the roof off the venerable old pile!
Musically Steve's shows have got better and better since he started performing the Genesis Revisited sets and although I like many others mourn the absence of more of his own material in his shows, no one could complain at what we were given tonight? Not me at any rate.
Visually however, it was a different matter. What should have been a brilliant light display was obscured by the excessive use of the smoke machine which at times virtually hid everyone on stage. That however, is really my only quibble about a show which, like so many others by this marvellous band will live long in the memory.