“The Ace Returns” - A review of Steve Hackett’s recent concert performance in the USA by TWR’s roving reporter: Bill Brink.

It has been six years since we have seen Steve Hackett in the States! On his recent tour (of which I saw two performances) Steve and his band answered the fundamental question: what’s new these days?

Well… rather a lot, actually.

About 75% of the material was new, and one gets the distinct feeling that Steve has found a groove with this new band. The underlying purpose of the tour has been realised; they were a BAND. And a tight one at that. The drummer, Hugo Degenhardt has an energy and agility on the kit that was very reminiscent of drummers like Alan White and Carl Palmer and others. On a robust fretless bass, Dave Ball played with a similar jazz-like precision that seems rare in the rock world. Julian Colbeck performed on what could be called a Spartan keyboard, tending to avoid the “wall of sound” role that synths often assume. All in all, the band complemented each other’s talents, seemed comfortable with what they were playing, and except for the fact that their manager (and spiritual leader) Billy Budis was the only one who could sign at the bar for beer, they looked like they were having a good time.

After an opening medley of numbers from the first four albums, the band stopped, took about one breath and launched into an inspired performance Of Camino Royale, which I gather is one of Steve’s favourites. Then out came an electric megaphone with Steve reciting some grim and brooding lines to begin (and NO I am NOT making this title up!) A Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite! Which after its strange beginning, proceeded at a strong pace.

What happened next was one of the pieces mentioned in the interview (see earlier in this issue). Flight Of The Condor did indeed, have that long sustained guitar sound, so reminiscent of Defector and Spectral Mornings. Take These Pearls came next and was one of the best romantic songs that I have heard him do in ages. It was perhaps my favourite piece of the entire show. One could here the Latin influence he spoke of in the rhythm. And the vocals! Steve, Julian and Dave put together some truly exceptional harmonies! In fact, Steve’s solo vocals on most of the other new pieces sounded like some of his best yet. So much for my insightful questions during the interview!

Always Somewhere Else… in 78ths followed and evolved into something of an improvisational melee. The next number was an instant sensation with the crowd: In The Heart of The City. Again the vocals were strong, the chorus was catchy and they used some interesting urban synth noises to open. I could imagine this song on the (GASP) radio.

Walking Away From Rainbows was, as Steve described it in the interview, a very passive and reflective piece for acoustic guitar and somewhat ethereal keyboards. This piece too was reminiscent of the quieter moments on earlier albums. The next piece was very strange (and here I will lapse briefly into the “rock music as comparative literature” mode). Many Sides To The Night opened with some surprisingly well executed blues harmonica. What followed was a sort of Beat-Poet-Moody Blues-Lou Reed-type spoken narrative which eventually gave way to vocals that were reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Hey You.

In That Quiet Earth followed, in a form that had developed well beyond the version we hear on Time Lapse, and including some more very energetic harmonica solos. Steve dedicated his next song to the individual who had done such an able job teaching him the harmonica: Paul Butterfield. It was called Dark Is The Grave. This song truly felt like an acoustic Kim Poor painting; very ethereal, but with an underlying rhythm that moved at a swift pace like cloth horses.

A very lively and well received bass/drum solo came next, with the two musicians showing just what they were capable of. From a relative fiunk fest of solo slap bass, the entire band plunged into Etruscan Serenade (now known as Omega Metallic us - AH) and jammed into it. Depth Charge and the only other old vocal piece that they played, Every day followed and they did a very nice job with them too. The consensus being that they sound significantly better now than they did at the time that Time Lapse was recorded.

Encore tine arrives. Beginning with an acoustic medley containing extracts from Cuckoo Cocoon, Blood On The Rooftops and Horizons. Then a new piece that they had apparently only done twice (and it has not yet been given a title). It had a bluesy feel to it with lots of harmonica and an almost ZZ Top feel to it. In closing they played a blues standard: The Stumble with the remark from Steve: “I don’t know why I was born in England when you’ve got all the blues over here” (Ooh…I can hear the English types wheezing from here - BB). Thank you and goodnight!

Click to enlarge