“Dancing with Fire and Ice” - The new Steve Hackett live DVD reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Without doubt, the most high profile and prolific member of the Genesis camp at present has to be Mr Stephen Hackett Esquire. Not content with a brand new double album (see reviews elsewhere in this edition), the man has also put together a brand new live DVD from last year’s amazing tour. If you were lucky enough to catch any of those shows, and in particular the one which this film captures, then you will know exactly what to expect here.
This is Steve’s first live DVD to be filmed here in the UK since the heady days of the Horizons DVD filmed in Nottingham back in 1990. Filming took place on a wintry night at London’s 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre back in November last year in front of a capacity crowd eager for the maestro to entertain us.
With a set drawing on the strongest material from Steve’s recent album alongside several classics from his past career and gems from his time with Genesis, this DVD should surely make Hackett fans very happy indeed? Well, actually not quite. The show opens with an excellent rendering of Valley Of The Kings, one of Steve’s best instrumentals in years and one which should be almost leaping out from the TV screen at you. Sadly, this is not the case here. Visually everything is fine, but to my ears at least the sound is muddy and to be honest I have heard better sound quality on bootlegs of this gig which is astonishing really.
Every Day sees improvement in the sound and the multiple cameras manage to give each musician a moment in the spotlight although some of the angles used aren’t exactly the most flattering but there you go! Emerald And Ash has already become a firm favourite in the set and here at least it lives up to that position with a fine performance by all involved although once again, some of the camera edits are a mite too sharp for my liking.
The Golden Age Of Steam was a welcome inclusion in the set from the underrated Darktown album and here, at last, the recording manages to capture the excitement and tension of the song extremely well, although Steve’s vocal sounds completely isolated from everything else in the mix at times.
Steve has carried the torch for his former band for a long time now and over the years, he has sneaked in one or two moments from that band to the delight of his fans. On this tour however, we are given a whole slew of Genesis material beginning with the glorious pairing of Watcher Of The Skies and Carpet Crawlers. The cheer that goes up from the crowd as Roger King unleashes the introduction to the former says it all really, and Roger and Gary O’Toole in particular deserve full credit for impressive performances on both of these classics.
Fire On The Moon brings us back to the present day and here at last the marriage between camera and sound comes into glorious relief. I was lucky enough to hear this song live before it was committed to album and it was stunning then and still is now. There is a real passion and fire here and for once all of that is here on display for all to see and hear.
Back to where it all began for Steve as a solo artist next with the raucous Ace Of Wands, still a fantastic romp for band and audience alike. Sadly again, there are sound problems here, Gary’s drums can barely be heard at times which is disappointing given that his performance on the night was stellar. This is followed by Shadow Of The Hierophant and the first of tonight’s guest appearances; Steve Wilson but the real star here is Amanda Lehmann who takes on the vocal mantle as if the song was written for her. I have said in my review of this gig that Steve Wilson made little or no impression on this song and the DVD proves it, he can barely be heard in the mix and frankly might as well not be there at all which is a major disappointment because he is a phenomenal player in his own right!
Sierra Quemada made a welcome return to the set last year. Another one of those
instrumentals which only Steve can write, this lives up to its title and scorches
the ears of the audience. Steve was having technical problems with the guitar
during this one so for once, the sound can’t be blamed on the mix but
the track still sent the hairs on my neck up as it did back in 1993 - was it
really THAT long ago?!
Nick Beggs’ solo Stick piece; The Darkness In Men’s Hearts is next. A wonderful instrumental which proves that Nick’s prowess on this instrument is right up there with that other exponent; Tony Levin.
Acoustic guitar time next although no medley this time round just the mighty Blood On The Rooftops which I was very interested in seeing on the DVD because I didn’t see it on the night except through a haze of tears. A masterpiece - nuff said!
Nick performs his “civic duty” and warms the audience of Steve’s attempt to do something death defying with a violin bow during the aural nightmare that is Tubehead, that homage to Marshall cabinets and valve amplifiers everywhere. Sadly no DVD can really do justice to the sheer violence that Steve and the band unleash here but this will give you a good idea nonetheless! The contrast between this and Sleepers is almost tangible. The latter has a brittle, glass-like beauty augmented by a marvellous harmony vocal performance by the band which is really brought to life here.
Our next special guest makes his appearance here as Steve and the band are joined on stage by John Wetton for a lacklustre performance of Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower which really gives Steve an excuse for unleashing some fine guitar licks. Wetton’s vocal sounds forced here and he looks uncomfortable on stage although I have no idea why!
Still Waters returns us to the land of the land of the blues which Steve had visited a long time before it was fashionable to do so. Well, he’s out of the closet now and just as it had been back in 2009, this one takes the audience by the scruff of the neck and shakes us until we beg for mercy.
The show proper closes with yet another road test for an as yet unrecorded new track; Prairie Angel, a fantastic soaring instrumental which segues into the evergreen Los Endos which has grown into a master class in instrumental violence for all concerned.
Encores? Of course there are encores but even I was surprised to hear the magnificent piano introduction to Firth of Fifth, faultlessly executed by Roger King before he was joined by the rest of the band for a truly epic performance of one of Steve’s finest moments with Genesis. Once again, Gary O’Toole delivered a fantastic vocal as well as faultless drumming and the smile on Steve’s face as he took his solo was one of a man at peace with himself which he certainly deserves after the last few years!
No Hackett show would be complete without Clocks, and once again Steve Wilson joined the band for this aural nightmare. Sound and vision capture the performance to perfection and the DVD closes on a suitable high as the show itself did.
So there you have it, Steve’s latest foray into the world of concert film. The strengths of this DVD are the tracks themselves and with a set such as this no self respecting fan would have any gripes on that score. However, there are issues with this DVD as I have mentioned. Sound and vision do not live up to expectations, there are some serious drop outs in sound at times and at others, the sound is less than clear. Visually some of the camerawork leaves something to be desired at times but when it does capture the moment, then it does so in fine style. From a personal perspective and I know this will sound like heresy to many, but there is too much emphasis on the Genesis era in Steve’s current live set at the expense of many of his finest solo moments. With twenty two albums of solo material, some of which have never even been represented in a Hackett live set there is more than enough material for Steve to draw from for his live shows, but hey, the odd classic G tune goes down a treat, don’t get me wrong!
For existing fans of Steve’s music, this will be yet another item to cherish, flaws and all. As an introduction to his music to anyone considering exploring Steve’s vast catalogue, then as a sampler it is hard to beat and should broaden Steve’s fan base still further - good job all round.