Steve Hackett in concert at Castello Sforzesco di Vivegano, Italy - July 9, 2000. Review by Roger Salem.
This concert was special for two reasons: it was the first time Steve was going to perform live in front of a crowd since the "Tokyo Tapes" concerts in Japan four years ago. And on the other hand, it was the first concert with his new band. So, needless to say the band was a little tense for this event. I had the privilege of being well acquainted to a friend at Blue Sky Agency (the Italian tour promoter) and being able to follow closely all the events that preceded the concert from the arrival of the band, Billy Budis and technical staff at their hotel to the sound check the following day. They arrived very late at Malpensa Airport in Milan and a nervous Paolo Leoni - a long-time admirer of Steve and frequent collaborator on the Genesis Italian magazine "Dusk" - could be seen pacing up and down the hotel lobby waiting for the bus to arrive, constantly checking his watch. Paolo had planned a special event, which even Billy was not aware of: a dinner in one of Vivegano's finest restaurants. Paolo was concerned about the closing time of the restaurant; it was already almost ten o'clock but everyone was starving after a flight which was delayed in London for over two hours with the a queue of aircraft on the tarmac!
The rest of the following day was spent meeting all the fans that started flooding in to the castle grounds early in the afternoon. A crowd of at least a thousand people was expected. Steve was to share the stage with two Prog bands; one from Italy, Saka, and the other from Mexico, Cast. But before the first band was to take the stage, the Italian fanzine "Dusk", headed by Mario Giammetti, had organised a meeting between Steve and the fans. It was very informal; Steve without the use of a microphone for amplification, sat down and began to answer all sorts of questions ranging from Genesis to his solo career. Steve was very relaxed and friendly and never lost his patience or temper when the usual asinine questions on Genesis kept on being thrown at him. At one point some idiot asked him how "The Knife" had been composed!
Eventually the moment we had all been waiting for; Stephen Hackett stepped on to the stage at around 10:15pm in front of a screaming crowd. He was dressed in black, wearing the same sunglasses he wore on the GN tour. The set list for this first night was: Mechanical Bride / Serpentine / Watcher Of The Skies / Hairless Heart /Firth Of Fifth / Riding The Colossus / The Steppes / Walking Away From Rainbows / Sierra Quemada / A Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite / Gnossienne No 1/ A Tower Struck Down / Darktown / Camino Royale / In Memoriam / Encore: Los Endos
How to begin describing this gig? The first number was unusual and "mechanical" sounding as its title suggests, very fusion-like. It even had a catchy melody which Paolo couldn't stop humming for the rest of the evening. "Serpentine" was a beautiful mellow ballad, quite colourful and cheerful.
"Hairless Heart" and "Firth Of Fifth" were pristine. If you had shut your eyes, it was like hearing Genesis playing back in the "Wind & Wuthering" days. Very articulate playing by all the band members without one wrong note. And the first time in a Hackett concert; the introduction of instruments such as the saxophone and clarinet played by Ben Castle. To me and many other fans, the highlight of the concert was unquestionably "The Steppes". It was a haunting and powerful moment; filled with emotion and nostalgia. I could hardly stand still. I can remember Steve doing this number on the "Defector" tour where it was played with the same physical intensity with Steve swaying his arms back and forth, thrashing at his guitar lever and sliding his fingers down the strings vigorously to create those demonic typical Hackett "ring noises" Ritchie Blackmore inspired and which I have coined many years ago as Zuits.
Steve finds that term amusing and I hereby thank him for one of the most amazing Zuits of the evening on "Watcher Of The Skies". It was like Clint Eastwood after firing his Magnum; "You made my day". Grazie, Steve!! "Sierra Quemada" sounded even better live than the studio version, very dreamy. The Satie number "Gnossienne" was played with Steve using an electric guitar and Ben Castle playing clarinet instead of flute. I honestly must say that this version sounded much more enchanting than the acoustic album version. The clarinet gave more body to the piece, rendering it more "Arabian" or exotic sounding. An extra Satie number would have bee appreciated. The crowd gave very warm applause to this number.
"A Tower Struck Down" was awesome, with Steve including for the first time (as far as I know) the pre-recorded "cough" sound so characteristic of this old classic. The last three numbers of the set were less interesting for me as they are songs which just don't "shake my tree". "In Memoriam" is beautiful but a bit too sad for my taste. Luckily the band lifted my spirits and brought me back to life again with their grand finale: "Los Endos", which once again was up to the standard of how Genesis used to play it. I kind of missed the beautiful dry ice and lights cast in stone by the famous Gallo photo on the "Seconds Out" album cover. If one criticism can be made of this show it is undeniably the lack of any light show. There were simply standard lights illuminating the musicians with no fantasy or effort made in that direction, and I feel that Steve's music could have a little added value with a good light show. In terms of sound, which was beyond the control of Steve's technical team; it left a lot to be desired. It was a borrowed PA system, stacked up on the stage instead of being suspended in air for better sound, and there was, for most of the show, a humming sound coming from what I later discovered was Roger King's keyboards. I also disliked the fact that Steve hardly addressed the audience. No in-between songs banter, left a rather icy feel in the air. I realise that Steve has always been a bit on the shy side, but in public he is quite a talker, and he has got an excellent sense of humour!
As for my appreciation of the other band members; on the whole I will say that they were very professional with excellent command of their instruments. But it is difficult to judge when most of the time my eyes as well as everyone else's were fixed on Steve. Ben Castle who really excels on the saxophone and clarinet was outstanding and got a large measure of the crowd's applause. Phil's bass was very "woody" and contributed greatly to the intensity of the songs. Most of the band sang and they sounded great in unison. That's about it, folks...