"Return Of The Brothers" - a decidedly off-beat review of The Steve Hackett Trio at The Galaxy Theater, Santa Ana, California, 28th October 2005 by Patrick Langdon.

Editors note: for those of you not familiar with the 'Letters From America' series on Steve Hackett's website, this review by the same author may seem a little odd. OK, it is odd, but it makes for interesting reading; you'll never read a gig review like this for a while! Enjoy...

I hadn’t seen Steve Hackett since November 1981. In the intervening years I was either somewhere in California or somewhere in Europe and missed the tours. The morning of October 28, 2005, I woke up and, being self-employed, decided to give myself the day off! I don’t know if I had eaten breakfast or not, but the first thing I did was plug in my nylon string to my amplifier through a chorus pedal and turn up the reverb to about 8. I played “Horizons’” and several Bay of Kings-type classical guitar meandering improvisations for hours. Not having played for several months, I was a bit rusty, as were my strings, but I wanted to get in the swing of things on concert day.

It was a relatively cool, crisp, miraculously blue day– the first clear sunny one after a week of rain and clouds. After playing guitar I drove up to the sheltered suburb where I’d grown up to visit my elderly parents, back in the old house where it all began, where I first heard Trick of the Tail and the Hackett solo albums, where I first played “Horizons’” at my parents’ dinner parties, where the backyard garden was populated with “Six saintly shrouded men moving across the lawn slowly..” and images from the Trespass album, all locked in that obscure vault of decades past. Down the hill a few miles was my Pacific Ocean “Bay of Kings”, a cliff-lined cove…

Those days are gone.

I went upstairs to my old bedroom. Out the window, the same steep canyon hillside, the same green lawn, but the towering “Genesis mystery tree” had since been cut down after one of those 80’s rainstorms, the one that used to sway and reel and cast shadows from the street light while I listened to music w/ headphones on, late at night.

My Bay Of Kings
Photo: P Langdon

The BSR turntable has since been packed in the dust of the garage or thrown away. The big house was empty except for my two senior citizen parents. My two sisters are married and have moved away and now there are vacant, silent rooms. A somewhat melancholy mood weighed upon me, reflecting a lyric from a Moody Blues song “You can never go home… anymore”, which wove into my subconscious.

My “Genesis-Hackett brotherhood friend” who attended the Roxy ’81 Hackett concert with me, with whom I had shared so much music and so many afternoons trying to play our versions of Genesis tunes, has since disappeared. Haven’t seen him in over twenty years!! I suppose his inheriting millions at 18 sort of changed his milieu. Last I heard, he was flying to London, consorting with 80’s music scene bigwigs.

And where did everyone else from those halcyon musical high school days go?

In any case, to add more blue to the deep blue of the sunny autumn day, was the fact that I’d have to attend the concert alone this time. If only my ex-fiancée could go with me, I imagined for a moment; but she was still in Poland, where we had both “walked away from rainbows” a year ago. Nevertheless, I tried to cheer myself up: I was living on my home turf again, in Southern California instead of a bleak coal mining town in Southern Poland.

“So, why aren’t you happy?” I asked myself, “You’re going to the Hackett concert!”

In the past 25 years I have become rather cynical with the realities of life, seen a lot of the world, and am no longer such a dreamer and so naïve like I was at 16. But I slapped myself in the face and pressed my new blue jeans. I even ironed my shirt and dusted off my black dress shoes, gave myself a close shave and washed my hair, which I had grown long again for a 70’s look. There might be some available single women there, I reasoned. I drove the freeways down to Santa Ana, missed an off-ramp and thought I might not get to the concert in time, but I did. No parking spaces again. I made my own next to a concrete barrier.

At the ’81 Roxy gig there were, as I wrote, “several fantastic older women…in their 20’s…all gussied up”. Now, here I was, 41 years old, scanning the crowd for twenty year olds! Instead of drinking six imported beers in 30 minutes like I did before the ’81 gig, I now contented myself with a low-carb, low-calorie light beer. My back was a bit sore from playing guitar all morning. I looked around at the stage, which seemed to burn with glamour in the gloom, and all the people and the happy diners and clinking glasses. What are these people doing eating steaks, fries, burritos, and orange-mango chicken before the concert?

The place was packed and noisy. Would the “Gods descend from Mt.Olympus to entertain us mortals” in this rowdy venue?

I suppose I was feeling a bit protective of the Royalty. Southern California fans are a bit nuts. It’s a different country down here.

The opening act was quite good; however, I went outside and had a cigarette and talked with other fans while waiting for the Trio. It was like a chat room on a progrock website come to life! Before one musical reference was mentioned, another was offered and “I saw them in ’73”, or “that was the ’77 Long Beach arena gig”, etc. Here was a place where everyone knew what you were talking about.

Then some young blond woman appeared outside the theater where we were chatting. She told tales of partying with ELP in the 90’s after a concert. One of them(in ELP), apparently, had been quite decidedly “flirtatious” with her. I could see why. Here was a cute, blond, blue-eyed 30 -year -old art rock fan, somewhat like a Swedish Playboy bunny….but an Orange County girl, American and warm….

She had come with her parents, also fans!! Man, I felt aged, but I am only 11 years older, c’mon. Some of the male fans were pondering if Hackett would play some tunes on electric and I felt like slapping ‘em down: Dudes, this is an acoustic concert! You uncultured slobs! No, they are not going to play “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”!

Fortunately, the cute blond seemed to keep re-directing her conversation back to me, asking certain “dating profile” questions, or maybe I was just exaggerating in my mind. I suppose dressing up a bit paid off. She begged a cigarette. She seemed to know a lot about the music I also liked. Then her dad, a big, gray-haired dude, appeared: “Oh, here’s my dad.” “Get outta here!” I thought, “She’s 30”. Good, he didn’t stay long out there.

At one point, the question, “Are you a big Steve Hackett fan?” I raised my arms like a TV evangelist addressing a congregation and confirmed that yes I was a serious fan, especially of the solo acoustic albums, and that I also played “Horizons’” and had the sheet music for and was learning “Cradle of Swans” , which nobody seemed to know. I told them it was off the Cured album.

This immediately seemed to increase the young woman’s esteem of me. Maybe I’ll invite her over and play romantic guitar pieces in private for her, I imagined….

I then heard the loud roar of the crowd and knew that Steve had popped into view. I entered the theater. He wasn’t out on stage yet. I leaned against the bar with a central view. A minute or so later Steve walked out to the red velvet chair and his guitars as the crowd went wild. Like seeing a long lost relative. There he was, my hero, my kinda music! The naïve teenager in me re-appeared and the aged, jaded cynicism faded. I recalled what it was all about, that original inspiration from the past. Hackett sauntered out jazzily in white and black, sporting long hair, looking young, not too different from ‘81. Strangely, however, for a moment I thought of Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear. There was a bit of a Miami crime boss aura.

Some fan at the bar yelled “Defector!” and another scolded “No.” Steve picked up the guitar: Was he slightly uneasy as he plucked the first solitary note?

I remembered how nervous I was the first minutes before I played solo for around 200 people at a university talent show back in the ‘86. It’s hard to be up there alone. Once up there I felt like a star and so was Steve now, relaxed. He fingered into some improvisation deftly, parts of “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, then on to some pieces I recognized, like “Petropolis”?, “Calmaria”?. A smile tightened my face. The waitresses with drinks walked past, people were lined up against the walls. My back was still sore from playing guitar in the morning, and it was uncomfortable to stand, there were no seats vacant. I walked down to lean against the post next to the mixing board. Then I sat down on the steps near the post. Sort of painful. I had a central view down to the stage and the atmosphere was lightened as scenes of dramatic coastlines, sprinkling fountains in quaint European villages, Andalusian alleyways in Old Malaga, candlelit nights drifted in my mind above the theater.

As the music lifted me above my corporeal irritations, I let my eyes roam to a new young woman. She was probably only twenty and had long blond hair and was very slender…. I also allowed my vision to check out the waitresses continually walking past me… they seemed to be walking on air, princesses carrying beer bottles on trays, and in a less “bar girl” mood– they suddenly appeared centered, loving and serene, almost maternal, as if they had just been proposed marriage to– from a great handsome bloke(dude) like me!

OK , enough dreaming. I returned my eyes to the stage. Steve was using a pedal. Was it volume or chorus or reverb or what? I remember clapping at the first notes of some piece I knew and Steve looked up. The rowdy yet good natured audience yelled a lot. I felt like splappin’ ‘em down again. This isn’t a rock concert, you guys…perhaps I was a snob…

The blond prog-rock chick bumped into me on the way to her parents’ table, “Oh, hi, enjoy the concert,” she smiled w/pleasure, perhaps glad to have made physical contact..

Second part of the show: John Hackett and Roger King walked out. Somehow, John looked like a South American religious cult leader in those dark shades and shirt, Jim Jones for a moment. Something sinister and intimidating…..and I was gonna try and meet these guys after the show to get an autograph?

They played “Kim” and Satie’s “Gymnopedies”. “Jacuzzi”. Lovely sound, what can I say? Just like the album. Superb sound. Steve asked the mixing man for more effects on the flute. The effect was fine to me. I was off the Orange County freeway and traffic jam and into the pastoral lands of my ears’ choice. I was amazed at the speed and “precision”(word coined by Steve) of John Hackett’s flute playing. A Prince of Flautists. The Al DiMeola of flute. Like a machine. Was it pre-recorded or mixed in?

I also liked his solo piece and that folk dance thing. Brought up a memory of something old yet new to me. Can’t place it. Where’d it come from? John mentioned something about “Monty Python”, and I felt like telling him that most men there probably were bigger fans of “Benny Hill”, an L.A. favorite decades ago.

Roger King tried to tell a joke. Perhaps it was too English. He did a nice solo piece, which I felt was under-appreciated by the audience, and some young man whistled during it and I felt like telling him to shut up or covering his mouth and holding him under until he passed out….Roger’s keyboard had a great bank of strings setting, clear and icy.

Then the concert was over and the audience nearly pulled the trio offstage with their applause. I didn’t think they would come out for autographs. Understandable after all those night -after- night gigs.

They weren’t to come out to sign autographs afterwards.

Out in the parking lot, I saw the blond progrock chick again– with her parents! Oh well…

I went inside waited anyway with a group of fans. I had my some CD covers I wanted signed. I’m not much of an autograph-getter, never have got one from anyone so I didn’t think it was that important, and neither smothering on the Trio all those trite fan exclamations, but I wanted to say hello.

Hey, I’m almost middle-aged.

Then there was that teenage kid with eyes wide, jumping up and down. It was me.